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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/X017591/1
Title: Electrowetting-enhanced sustainable liquid films for collection of viable airborne pathogens
Principal Investigator: Coudron, Dr L
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: School of Engineering and Technology
Organisation: University of Hertfordshire
Scheme: Standard Research - NR1
Starts: 03 April 2023 Ends: 02 October 2024 Value (£): 200,798
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Complex fluids & soft solids Microsystems
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Aerospace, Defence and Marine
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
21 Jun 2022 New Horizons 2021 Full Proposal Panel Announced
23 Jun 2022 New Horizons Electronic and Electical Engineering Panel June 2022 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Routinely employed in critical spaces, environmental real-time monitoring systems could offer early (pre-infection) warning to fight the spread of transmissible diseases. Such asset is unfortunately critically missing in the disease spread control arsenal, of which, the COVID-19 crisis is a strong and bitter reminder. Despite the booming of microfluidic techniques, there are currently no systems for true real-time identification of airborne pathogens that would make such an infection transmission monitoring tool possible.

Real-time monitoring of bioaerosol requires two fundamental elements: continuous time-resolved collection; and integrated rapid analysis and detection. Requirements that are largely unmet by the most used collection techniques and among them an alarming lack of consideration for in-line integration of the collection technology with the downstream detection one. To bridge this gulf, we introduce a novel collection approach involving a low-volume liquid film as collection medium using integrated microfluidic technology (electrowetting) to control the film stability and allow for continuous extraction of collected material into 'time-resolved' detectable sample. By employing superhydrophilic surfaces, liquid films of immensely large surface area can be created, allowing extremely efficient collection into minuscule volumes. In addition, using liquid films as a collection medium will improve the preservation of the properties of bioaerosols' most fragile constituents.

The aim of the project is to provide a new set of tools to bridge the gap separating current bioaerosol collection techniques from actual real-time monitoring by proposing a novel method for time-resolved continuous aerosol collection into liquid film sustained and controlled by electrowetting-DMF. The key objectives are closely related to the realisation and integrations of these basic technologies. The research plan is designed to investigate and validate the key concepts and objectives of the project, which include:

- The creation of localised liquid low volume/surface ratio (i.e. high spread) liquid film through the investigation of surface modification processes and fluid property;

- The fabrication of a microfluidic droplet dispenser exploiting surface properties;

- The design and fabrication of a DMF device for flow control and sample supply;

- The design and manufacture of an aerosol collection prototype integrating the microfluidics-controlled sustainable liquid film;

- The demonstration of continuous aerosol collection and detection capability;

- The rapid reach, efficient dissemination and impact facilitation of the proposed innovation.

The proposed project is very high risk with numerous interrogation and challenges that will have to be answered. What is the best way to make the proposed films? Is material collection into those film at all possible? How can the technologies be integrated together to achieve the desired performances? All of this will have to be proven. The challenge is high but the reward in case of success is potentially huge with a new weapon against airborne transmissible diseases. Amid the current pandemics, there is no arguing such diseases represent an enormous socioeconomic cost. A new bioaerosol collection method that combines high concentration rate, time-resolved sampling and downstream connectivity would make the major technological breakthrough required to develop an actual continuous monitoring system. Such tool, enabling real-time identification of airborne pathogens, would be a formidable asset in early detection of diseases. Used in finely meshed network, real time monitoring systems would acquire real-time data to serve high accuracy airborne transmission model. In critical location, such as airports, classrooms or hospitals, they would offer early pre-infection warning allowing rapid respond to hinder or even stop the disease transmission route.
Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.herts.ac.uk