Advancement of laser-based atomic spectroscopy techniques for biological sample analysis; from elemental profiling of tissues down to the cell organelle level

This project proposes the use of cutting-edge atomic spectroscopy instrumentation in combination with nano-extraction techniques for the elemental profiling of biological tissues, to push the boundaries of analytical chemistry towards single-cell analysis.  

Start date
1 July 2021
3 years
Application deadline
Funding source
The University of Surrey, Project-led Studentship Award.
Funding information

The funding package for this studentship award is as follows: 

  • Full UK/EU tuition fee covered  
  • Stipend at £15,285 p.a. (2021/22) 
  • RTSG of £1,000 p.a.  
  • Personal Computer 


The determination of metals ions in biological samples is key in diverse areas of biomedicine, including drug delivery and diagnosis. The regulation of the concentration of trace elements in the phagosome is known to be a critical strategy for the survival of the intracellular organisms and host defence against infection. In particular, redistribution of nutrients such as Fe and Mn, have been found to contribute to “nutritional immunity”, while other elements, such as Cu and Zn, tent to accumulate within the phagosome in order to limit bacterial growth. It has also been suggested that resistance to diverse metals (including non-essential and potentially toxic metals) and antibiotics are often genetically linked. Therefore, knowledge of the mineral status at cellular (single) or sub-cellular levels in conjunction to molecular analysis (drugs, lipids and metabolites) is fundamental to understand the heterogeneity of cells response to drug treatment. 

Novel single-cell techniques are attracting growing interest for clinical applications, because they can elucidate the cellular heterogeneity instead of the average masked by bulk measurements. This project aims to integrate DAPNe (direct analyte probed nano-extraction) and other nano manipulation approaches with the potential of ultra-trace elemental analysis by ICP-MS (inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry). The use of laser ablation (LA) and laser induce breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) is proposed as the ideal interface for the introduction of extracted nano-aliquots into the elemental mass spectrometer, and for the elemental mapping of biological tissues.  

The multidisciplinary supervisory team gather expertise in elemental analysis by mass spectrometry (Dr Felipe-Sotelo), bioimaging and nanoextraction (Dr Bailey) and biosciences (Dr Beste). 

Eligibility criteria

Candidates must have a first class or good 2/1 Masters or BSc degree in a relevant scientific discipline in chemistry, physics, biochemistry or environmental sciences. 

This studentship is available to UK and EU applicants.

IELTS requirements: If English is not the first language, IELTS 6.5 or above (or equivalent) is required, with no sub-test score less than 6.  

How to apply

Apply on-line following the instructions on the Chemistry PhD programme page.

Select Chemistry PhD Full-time, July 2021. 

Please, after applying through the University’s website send email directly to Monica Felipe-Sotelo.

Application deadline

Contact details

Monica Felipe-Sotelo
15 AZ 03
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 686837

Analytical and Forensics 


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