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PhD Studentship - Monitoring chemical dynamics in soil and water with advanced microfluidic sensors

School of Engineering

Location:  Highfield Campus
Closing Date:  Monday 31 August 2020
Reference:  1220019DA

Supervisor:                 Dr. Xize Niu 

Co-supervisor             Dr. Adrian Nightingale and Prof. Tiina Roose

Project description

Excess nitrogen and phosphorous leaching from agricultural and horticultural lands into waterways is a long-standing challenge for agricultural sustainability and environmental protection. An effective approach to improving water/fertilizer efficiency is through precision farming practices guided by real-time monitoring and near-term forecast of crop irrigation and fertilization needs. However, this initiative is hampered by the lack of reliable sensing technologies and modelling tools for elucidating the spatiotemporal variation of nutrient concentrations in the soil. 

You will be embedded within an interdisciplinary collaborative US-UK “Signals in the Soil” project which aims to tackle the grand challenge of decoding nitrogen dynamics in soil through development of novel wireless nitrogen sensing technology, field testing, and data-driven modelling of rhizosphere nitrogen dynamics. Together, this project will transform existing labour intensive and inefficient soil analysis practice to automated and highly efficient strategies, and thus advancing the underlying science and engineering of soil nitrogen dynamics and providing guidance for sustainable agricultural and ecosystem managements. 

In this project you will develop new sensor technology for monitoring soil chemistry, building on our recent work developing cutting-edge sensors for water and medical applications based on droplet microfluidics. Droplet microfluidics involves the generation, manipulation, and measurement of discrete droplets of water dispersed within a stream of oil flowing along sub-millimetre-diameter tubing. As droplet volumes are small (pL-µL), chemical treatments and measurements can be quickly and precisely performed, meaning droplet microfluidics offers a rapid and highly efficient method for continuously sampling and chemically analysing the environment. In this project you will develop field-deployable droplet-based water analysers using our robust droplet generation technique. You will develop fundamental droplet microfluidic technology, implement it into field-deployable systems and test them in the field.

We are looking for a UK student with a First or Upper Second (2:1) class undergraduate degree, or equivalent, in engineering (mechanical, environmental, or chemical), analytical chemistry, environmental science or another closely related subject. The student will be supported by a generous stipend for up to 3.5 years and will have opportunities to undertake field work and international collaborations.

The following qualities are desirable in the candidate (though given the multidisciplinary nature of the project, we do not expect applicants to have demonstrated all):

  • Strong in engineering and design, including 3D computer aided design (CAD), microfabrication, 3D printing, custom electronics and sensor or microfluidic device design. 

  • Strong in analytical chemistry and associated techniques, including sample collection and assay preparation, absorbance and/or fluorimetric spectroscopy, and data analysis. 

  • Excellent in writing and communication. Capable of both laboratory experiment and field test.

If you wish to discuss any details of the project informally, please contact Dr. Xize Niu ( 

Entry Requirements

A very good undergraduate degree (at least a UK 2:1 honours degree, or its international equivalent).

Funding: full tuition fees for EU/UK students plus for UK students, an enhanced stipend of £15,009 tax-free per annum for up to 3.5 years. 

How To Apply

Applications should be made online here selecting “PhD Eng &Env (Full time)” as the programme. Please enter Xize Niu under the proposed supervisor.

Applications should include

Curriculum Vitae

Two reference letters

Degree Transcripts to date

Apply online:

For further information please contact: 

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