The problem:

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).

The innovative solution:

In the developed World, chlorination of water supplies has effectively irradiated waterborne disease.   There have been attempts to introduce chlorination of water supplies in developing regions, however, this intervention is not readily adopted or sustained. One of the most obvious reasons is that over dosing of chlorine (> 3 ppm, either from tablets, bleach, or bleaching powder) results in unacceptable taste and odour (many of us experience this in tap water).  Also, there are negative health implications of overdosing chlorine including the formation of disinfection by-products which may be carcinogenic. Under dosing of chlorine (<0.5 ppm) means that disinfection may not be effective.  The chlorine demand of the water means that dose based on volume is not effective for controlling the free chlorine concentration.  Therefore, the development of sensors for the determination of free chlorine and feedback control of dosing would be a major step forward in quality assurance for low cost disinfection systems in low to middle income countries (LMICs).

Interdisciplinarity of the project:

The project requires an understanding of water chemistry, the measurement of free chlorine and chlorine demand, and a need for nanomaterials research for electrochemical sensing of free chlorine.  For feedback control of dosing systems, it is necessary to integrate electronics, signal processing, actuators and mechanical components i.e. mechatronics. The testing of disinfection of water requires knowledge of water microbiology and microbiological methods.

This project integrates chemistry, microbiology and mechatronic engineering. This project is directly linked to the GCRF SAFEWATER project funded under the Global Challenges Research Fund UKRI.

The successful candidate will work as part of a large transdisciplinary team in the Ulster Safewater Research Centre. Eligible candidates should have a primary degree in the physical sciences or engineering.

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:

Interdisciplinary Competition

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University