Water borne diseases from drinking unsafe water contribute to high incidence of illness in developing regions.  At least 1.8 billion people globally use a source of drinking water that is faecally contaminated and thus likely to lead to diarrheal illness: nearly 1,000 children die each day due to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrhoeal diseases. In 2010, the UN General Assembly explicitly recognised the human right to water and sanitation. Everyone has the right to sufficient, continuous, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use.  Low cost technologies for safe drinking water have significant potential to improve the health of communities who rely on unsafe water, and thus improve their quality of life through reduced illnesses, reduced absence from employment, improved school attendance, improved family life, and less stress on females (normally responsible for water in households).

This research project is directly linked to the SAFEWATER Project, ‘low cost technologies for safe drinking water in developing regions’ funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund RCUK.

The focus of this research will be to develop a device which can identify faecal contamination of water within a reasonable timeframe.  It will be user friendly and be portable to allow testing in remote areas without access to lab facilities. For example, lateral flow tests, also known as lateral flow immunochromatographic assays, are simple devices intended to detect the presence of a target analyte in sample without the need for specialised and costly equipment, though many lab-based applications exist that are supported by reading equipment. Typically, these tests are used for medical diagnostics either for home testing, point of care testing, or laboratory use. A widely spread and well-known application is the home pregnancy test.

This PhD project will involve the design of portable electronic devices for the assessment of the microbiological contamination of drinking water. The sensors group specialises in healthcare sensor systems design and associated embedded software, data analytics; medical algorithm development, wearable systems, microfluidic devices fabrication vital signs and blood sensing. The group also addresses the overall need for integrated sensor systems and now has programmes focusing on integrated GUI / App based clinically relevant UX designs that are developed for medical decision making/predictive devices.

This is an interdisciplinary project with input from Psychology (Keenan) on Behaviour Analysis.  The main theme is engineering and there is a need for a primary degree in electrical or electronic engineering for this research.

Academic impact – This research project should deliver results concerning the development of electronic devices for the detection of faecal indicator organisms in water. The research should deliver data and results that can be published in high impact peer reviewed journals.

Overseas impact – This research is part of the SAFEWATER GCRF RCUK project which is a large transdisciplinary research project in partnership with universities and NGOs in Colombia, Mexico and Brazil.   The overall goal is to deliver low cost technologies for safe drinking water in rural areas of Colombia, Mexico, Brazil.

Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.


    The University offers the following awards to support PhD study and applications are invited from UK, EU and overseas for the following levels of support:

    Department for the Economy (DFE)

    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,285 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fee’s component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided). For Non-EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK. 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.

    Due consideration should be given to financing your studies; for further information on cost of living etc. please refer to:

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University