Laser Micro-Interferometry for Single Coronavirus Detection


This EPSRC-PhD project will develop single coronavirus sensing capabilities based on the laser interferometric technology pioneered in Professor Vollmer’s laboratory and apply the instrument for testing saliva and nasal patient samples for CoV2 virus nanoparticles. The goal is to develop new sensing physics for the specific single CoV2 virus detection by laser m-interferometers (optical microcavities). The optical method has already been successful for the detection of Influenza A and the clinical trial is to confirm appropriate high-throughput sensing to detect the virus CoV2.


This proposal targets the need for detecting CoV2 virus nanoparticles directly with light. This would enable sensing of virus particles rapidly, with high sensitivity, and with high throughput. The typical viral load in patient saliva has been reported to be on average 10^6 CoV2 virus particles per ml, corresponding to a concentration of ~20 fM, see Lancet study from 23 March 2020, DOI: 10.1016/S1473-3099(20)30196-1. This is above the LOD demonstrated for single virus detection in 2008, using technology developed in Professor Vollmer’s laboratory: This will be further assessed to reduce false negative and positive rates for the original PCR test target and to develop validation tests for the currently used WHO primers in the N1-3 and M12-18 domains to monitor for novel mutations and develop responsive testing strategies to new COVID strains.


The laser interferometry technique that will be advanced and miniaturized in this project is best suited to address the need to analyze very small amounts of easily accessible patient samples (saliva and nasal swabs) for the presence of CoV2 virus particles. The optical sensors developed in Professor Vollmer’s laboratory can deliver these unique sensing capabilities not available elsewhere.


This project is a collaboration between the University of Exeter (Micro-Laser Interferometry, sensing physics); University of Plymouth (Adeno- and coronavirus surrogates for initial testing, receptor molecules); NHS Taunton (deployment and test of instrument with patient samples).


The project will involve: 1) new instrumentation physics for building a micro-interferometer based on whispering-gallery modes excited in glass microspheres see Optical Whispering Gallery Modes for Biosensing - From Physical Principles to Applications | Frank Vollmer, Dehui Yu | Springer; 2) miniaturisation by integration with micro/nanofabricated photonics structures and 3D printing, advanced microfluidics 3) Application of optoplasmonic signal enhancements for ultra-sensitive detection at the single virus particle and possibly single molecule level 4) application of advanced sensing schemes based on exceptional points and PT symmetry


Please contact Prof Frank Vollmer for further information:


Please apply by Jan 25 here: Award details | Funding for prospective students | University of Exeter

Prof Frank Vollmer

University of Exeter, Living Systems Institute

Exeter EX4 4QD, United Kingdom

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