Digital Microfluidics-Enhanced Environmental Sampling and Detection for Airborne Pathogens

With the tangible threat posed by naturally occurring airborne pathogens by the malicious release of chemical and biological warfare (CBW) agents, detection of airborne pathogens is a critical military and security concern for society. Timely detection of pathogens is an immediate concern with a profound impact on the security and resilience of our societies. Being able to detect potential threats in the air is an important, desirable asset for civil and military security which also has potential significance for future health monitoring.

The University of Hertfordshire’s Microfluidics and Microengineering Research Group (MMRG) and Centre for Research in Biodetection Technologies (CRBT), in collaboration with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), have developed a new generation of air sampler using Lab-on-a-Chip technology to tackle the numerous challenges facing early detection of disease from airborne naturally occurring or weaponised pathogens.

We have successfully demonstrated the automated detection of four classes of simulant CBW agent biomolecules and organisms, each representing a credible threat agent: through the collection and production of high concentration, small volume samples from the environmental air.

This new detection strategy allows detection of airborne pathogens before a person is exposed to a potentially lethal dose and will enable hazards to be assessed and avoided, and to plan where decontamination procedures are needed.

This ongoing project was shortlisted as a finalist in The Engineer’s 2019 Collaborate to Innovate Awards, in the Aerospace, Defence & Security category.

The MMRG and CRBT perform both academic research into novel microfluidic devices and techniques and pursues business-facing projects involving consultancy and automated microfluidics-enabled systems for government agencies and industry. Our work seeks to develop microfluidic-based solutions for the collection, detection and analysis of environmental threats that affect society. Please contact Associate Professor Ian Johnston or visit our websites to learn more about the research conducted by the MMRG or CRBT