Nanomaterials sensors for biomedicine and/or the environment

Iris Nandhakumar, University of Southampton; Antonios Kanaras, QLM

The quality of treated wastewater for agriculture is under more and more stringent control - particularly heavy metal contamination. Heavy metal contamination, such as e.g. cadmium, copper, lead and nickel, is one of the more difficult problems of water contamination to analyse. Analysis of water for heavy metal contamination is a slow and expensive process and usually requires the shipping of samples to distant labs with a minimum turn around time of 24 hours though routinely 3-5 days. The standard method for heavy metal analysis of water uses the slow, expensive and cumbersome techniques of atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS) or inductively-coupled plasma mass spectroscopy (ICP-MS). Electrochemical water analysis, such as anodic stripping voltammetry (ASV), is attractive because it is fast, portable and inexpensive. The aim of this PhD project is to develop a cheap electrode for the analysis of treated wastewater using functionalized nanoporous membranes. The need for such a sensor is clear and the low cost and ease of use of the proposed sensor will make protecting the quality of treated waste-water cheap and easy and therefore more common and accessible to more people.



Radiografted nanoporous membrane sensors are polymer membranes such as polycarbonate (PC), polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), with chemically functionalized nanopores. A thin metallic conducting layer is sputtered on these membranes. The metallic layer is thin enough that it does not block the membrane nanopores. These membrane electrodes are then put into liquid samples to absorb ions. The ions absorbed depend on the functionalization of the pores. We will explore a number of strategies for functionalizing the nanoporous membranes which will including using nanomaterials such as nanoparticles that will be grafted onto the internal pore surface.   The membranes now represent the original sample and can be used for potentiometric analysis to identify and quantification of the absorbed ions. The goal of the project is to develop prototypes of these radiografted nanoporous membrane sensors for anodic stripping voltammetry (ASV) analysis of treated wastewater to bind and analyse heavy metal contaminants.

University of Southampton

The INSPIRE DTP programme provides comprehensive personal and professional development training alongside extensive opportunities for students to expand their multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial/policy partners. The student will be registered at the University of Southampton and hosted in the Chemistry Department in close collaboration with Quantum, Light and Matter Group in Physics.

I suggest add some details of the general skills training that the student will get -

Specific training will include:

  1. The preparation of functionalised nanoporous polymer membranes for binding heavy metal ions in wastewater
  2. The chemical synthesis of a variety of nanoparticles for functionalising the nanoporous membranes.
  3. The electrochemical analysis of heavy metal ions in wastewater using the nanoporous membrane sensors
  4. A vast range of techniques to characterize nanomaterials.


Eligibility & Funding Details: 

Please see for details.


Background Reading: 
  1. Functionalized Nanoporous Track-Etched ß-PVDF Membrane Electrodes for Pb(II) determination by Square Wave Anodic Stripping Voltammetry, H. Bessbousse, I. Nandhakumar, M.Decker, M. Barsbay, M.C. Clochard, T.L. Wade, Analytical Methods 3(6), 1351 (2011).
  2. Ureña-Horno, E. Kyriazi, M.E.; Kanaras,* A. G. Nanoscale Adv. 2021, 3 (12), 3522-3529.
  3. Ion-Track Etched Templates for the High Density Growth of Nanowires of Bismuth Telluride and Bismuth Antimony Telluride by Electrodeposition, E Koukharenko, Neil White, X Li, and Iris Nandhakumar, ECS Trans.  64(35), 9-14 (2015).