Exploring the Application of Microfluidics

to Viral Diagnostics 

10-Week Summer Studentship


This pump-prime project is to explore the potential to harness the power of microfluidics to detect and quantify the presence and type of viruses within a biological or environmental sample, with applications in viral detection and disease diagnostics, as well as quality control in viral vaccine production through detection of adventitious agents.

A virus is a small infectious agent that replicates only inside the living cells of other organisms. Viruses can be highly contagious pathogens with devastating effects on both human and animal health: one need only think of the recent Ebola and Zika epidemics, or more common outbreaks of Influenza and Norovirus to appreciate the global importance of these pathogens. Viruses can evolve rapidly due to their high mutation rate, enabling them to readily jump hosts from other species to humans. Therefore, the detection of both known viruses and the potential identification of novel viruses from a biological or environment sample is a critical element in both diagnostics, disease control and future horizon scanning. 

Microfluidics is a multidisciplinary field in which low volumes of fluids are processed to achieve automation and high-throughput screening. Therefore, when combined with appropriate system and filter designs, microfluidics could make the ideal technology for the filtering, detection and quantification of viruses within a sample. Microfluidics has the ability to work with minute sample sizes, and therefore detect and quantify minuscule amounts of viruses in a rapid, unbiased and low cost setting. However, as of yet, microfluidics has not been significantly applied to field of viral detection and diagnostics. 



The scope of this summer studentship will focus on the analysis of the properties of viruses to determine the biophysical differences between viral families (which can differ substantially in size, shape & deformability) and how they interact under flow with the materials used to build microfluidic devices. This data will be used to inform mathematical modelling (video above from Timm Krüger) leading to the initial design of bespoke microfluidic systems for further testing.

The student will be trained in advanced surface analysis techniques and contribute significantly towards an exciting cross-disciplinary project with huge potential impact in real-world applications of the understanding.

It is anticipate that the project will culminate in week 8 or 9 with a research trip to ISIS neutron source in Oxfordshire, where structural information will be correlated to the chemical information collected in the lab.


You will be primarily supervised by Dr. Rob Barker in his lab at the University of Kent. However, the project is a close collaboration between Dr. Timm Krüger (University of Edinburgh) and Dr. Richard Orton (University of Glasgow), so it is anticipated that the student will take part in at least one research trip to bring together the key stakeholders and discuss the progress of the project.


If you are an interested and motivated 2nd Year BSc or 3rd Year MChem (or equivalent) student, with an interest in applied Physical, Analytical or Forensic Chemistry or Biophysics, please drop me an email and I'd be excited to discuss the project further with you.


£200 per week for 10 weeks


June/July - Can be negotiated

Last Updated: December 2018 by Rob Barker.

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