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Postgraduate research project

Preventing disease by enhancing the cleaning power of domestic water taps using sound

Competition funded View fees and funding
Type of degree
Doctor of Philosophy
Entry requirements
2:1 honours degree View full entry requirements
Faculty graduate school
Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences
Closing date

About the project

This project will address two challenges, disease and hunger. The world will need to feed an extra 2-billion people by 2050. By the same year, superbugs such as bacteria resistant to antibiotics, will be killing more people than cancer, and have cost the world economy more than its current size.

Uptake of solutions is key to engineering. It would be a huge advantage to have solutions to these that is both common on a global scale, but also easy to use.

Water-taps, or faucets, are commonplace worldwide. They are easy-to-use by untrained people, and are already in the routine front-line efforts to reduce disease (washing hands, food, PPE) and in food preparation.

At the University of Southampton, Professor Leighton invented technology whereby the addition of sound and microscopic air bubbles to streams of ordinary tap water can hugely increase its cleaning power. This is achieved without heating the water (saving 79-97% of electrical power compared to commercial and medical cleaning systems) and without adding chemicals to the water which makes it easier to purify the run-off into clean water again.

Engineers at the spin-out company Sloan Water Technology Ltd. (SWT) are working on particular projects, including placing surgical instrument cleaners in the NHS. However, SWT has also successfully sponsored PhD projects, where students research their own unique initiatives, the successful ones having the opportunity of being included in SWT future commercial outputs.

This proposed project will look at introducing SWT’s core breakthrough (of enhancing cleaning in room-temperature tap water through the addition of sound and microscopic air bubbles) into domestic water taps. Such an initiative would improve hand-cleaning (for example, in advance of a future pandemic that is transmitted by touch), and cleaning of foods. Indeed, preliminary studies show that washing in SWT’s water stream extends food shelf life, currently 25% of the world’s food calories, and up to 50% by weight are wasted before consumption. Because water-taps are so commonly used world-wide, the widespread dissemination of this research to reduce global disease and hunger is a real possibility.

The appointed student should have a good engineering or physics degree, and be interested in learning cross-disciplinary skills, particular the staining and microscopy skills used in microbiology (two of the co-supervisors, Highmore and Secker, are microbiologists).