Summary

Imperative utilization of biosensors has acquired paramount importance in the field of drug discovery, healthcare diagnosis, environmental monitoring and several other contemporary fields. This project will establish fundamentals to combine two techniques, plasmonic (optical sensing) and radio frequency (RF) biosensing in a single platform. Most conventional RF, as well as optical biosensing techniques, are label-free; however other than detecting binding events, it cannot efficiently distinguish specific features of a reaction such as a charge, mass or a change in the double-layer capacitance.

To elucidate the aforementioned details, some drawbacks such as the need for sophisticated equipment, labour-intensive sample preparation, off-site verification, and excessive use of consumables are involved. One way to address this challenge (without the drawbacks) is to combine multiple modes of sensing in a system, where one mode is specific to a certain signature, such as mass or charge, of the binding event. In this context, the optical mode of the proposed sensor will measure the mass of the binding event and the RF mode will measure electrical features of the biomolecule binding (i.e., charge, size of double-layer capacitor, etc). The optical mode will utilise the localised surface plasmon resonance (LSPR) technique for the measurement of the mass. LSPR are distinct from the propagating surface plasmon resonances (SPR). While in LSPR and SPR, the electron cloud oscillates collectively, the plasmons propagate back and forth between the two ends of a planar film structure in SPR.

Moreover, for LSPR the material is also required to have dimensions smaller than the wavelength of the incident light. The strength of associated evanescent waves created in the LSPR can be tuned by controlling the material type and geometry of the metal nanostructure. A wide variety of materials ranging from metals and semiconductors have been utilized in the past for developing LSPR nanostructures for routine sensing applications [1,2], and [3]. On the other hand, the RF mode will utilise the use of a vector network analyser (VNA) to enable the biosensor characterisation in terms of complex network scattering parameters (S-parameters). The latter will be modelled into lumped circuit elements (such as LC networks) and a correlation between optical and RF measurement will be made to reveal electrical dynamics of the binding events.

This multidisciplinary project will provide the candidate with comprehensive experience in RF instrumentation, nanofabrication, characterisation, and design of novel RF/optical sensing platforms.

The suitable candidate should have completed his/her undergraduate degree in Physics, Biophysics, Electronics, Nanotechnology, or Biomedical Engineering or a closely related field.  The candidate is also expected to have a keen interest in RF systems and optics as the candidate will work closely with the experimental RF and optics team within Ulster.


Essential criteria

Applicants should hold, or expect to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class Honours Degree in a subject relevant to the proposed area of study.

We may also consider applications from those who hold equivalent qualifications, for example, a Lower Second Class Honours Degree plus a Master’s Degree with Distinction.

In exceptional circumstances, the University may consider a portfolio of evidence from applicants who have appropriate professional experience which is equivalent to the learning outcomes of an Honours degree in lieu of academic qualifications.

  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Masters at 65%
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications - peer-reviewed

Funding and eligibility

The University offers the following levels of support:

Vice Chancellors Research Studentship (VCRS)

Full award (full-time PhD fees + DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £15,840 (tbc) maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Vice-Chancellor’s Research Bursary (VCRB)

Part award (full-time PhD fees + 50% DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £8,000 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fees Bursary (VCRFB)

Fees only award (PhD fees + RTSG for 3 years).

This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Department for the Economy (DFE)

The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,840 (tbc) per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

  • Candidates with pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, who also satisfy a three year residency requirement in the UK prior to the start of the course for which a Studentship is held MAY receive a Studentship covering fees and maintenance.
  • Republic of Ireland (ROI) nationals who satisfy three years’ residency in the UK prior to the start of the course MAY receive a Studentship covering fees and maintenance (ROI nationals don’t need to have pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme to qualify).
  • Other non-ROI EU applicants are ‘International’ are not eligible for this source of funding.
  • Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Due consideration should be given to financing your studies. Further information on cost of living


Recommended reading

1] ACS Applied Nano Materials 2, 2064-2075. 2019 [2] ACS Nano 14, 11939-11949. 2020 [3] Biosensors and Bioelectronics 142, 111528. 2019


The Doctoral College at Ulster University