EPSRC CDT in Metamaterials: Cell sorting using surface acoustic waves and phononic crystals

University of Exeter - Departments of Physics and Astronomy, and Department of Engineering

The studentship is part of the EPSRC Centre of Doctoral Training in Metamaterials (XM2), www.exeter.ac.uk/metamaterials. Our aim is to undertake world-leading research, while training scientists and engineers with the relevant research skills and knowledge, and professional attributes for industry and academia.

Joint supervisors: Prof Geoff Nash, Dr Peter Petrov

Measurement of the mechanical properties of a living cell can be used to provide important information about disease. For example, malaria in humans causes red blood cells to stiffen by up to a factor of 10 within 48 hours of infection. However, current techniques used to measure the mechanical properties of cells, such as atomic force microscopy, tend to damage the cells of interest, limiting the usefulness of the information obtained.

In this project we will explore a new approach where instead of trying to measure the properties of cells, we will use surface acoustic waves (SAWs) to sort cells according to their properties, without damaging them. Over the last decade or so SAWs have been increasingly exploited for lab-on-a-chip applications [1] and it has been recently shown that, when coupled to a phononic crystal to focus and guide the SAWs [2], they can be used to effectively sort small particles by size [2]. As part of an existing CDT project, we have developed a novel approach for the realisation of phononic crystals [3] and the aim of this new project is to extend this work to explore whether SAWs can be used to sort cells according to their elasticity.  Ultimately, this could lead to new techniques and technology for diagnosis, with potential far-reaching impact.  Although the project is bio-physics focussed, the student will draw heavily upon, and benefit from, the expertise within the CDT.

4-year studentship: for UK/EU students, the studentship includes tuition fees and an annual stipend equivalent to current Research Council rates; for international students (non-EU) a very small number of fees only studentships may be available

[1] X. Y. Ding, P. Li, S. C. S. Lin et al, “Surface acoustic wave microfluidics”, Lab Chip 13, 3626 (2013).
[2] D. J. Collins, Z. Ma, and Ye Ai, “Highly Localized Acoustic Streaming and Size-Selective Submicrometer Particle Concentration Using High Frequency Microscale Focused Acoustic Field “, Anal. Chem. 88, 5513 (2016).
[3] B. J. Ash, S. R. Worsfold, P. Vukusic, G. R. Nash, “Robust and highly tunable phononic crystal for surface acoustic waves”, in preparation.

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