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Centre for Doctoral Training in Photonic Integration and Advance Data Storage

Research Profile: Emma Crothers

Educational Background and experience:  
I graduated in 2020 with a MSci in Medicinal Chemistry from Queen’s University Belfast. 

CDT EngD Project: Development of Soft Transducer Layer Systems on Gold Surfaces for LSPR Biosensing.  

Primary -  Dr Bob Pollard, QUB (Plasmonics for Biosensing).  
Dr Efrosyni Themistou, QUB (Polymer Synthesis).  
Dr Matt McGoldrick, Causeway Sensors (Biological Assay Design).  
Secondary -  
Prof John Marsh, UofG.  

Project description:  
In the context of Causeway Sensors technology, my project involves the development, characterisation and optimisation of organic optical transducers for use at chip-scale in a proprietary localised surface plasmon resonance (LSPR)-based biosensor instrument, wherein changes in the refractive index at the nanostructured metal surface, induced by bioconjugation of analytes to the reactive transducer termini, are monitored optically by probing spectral shifts in the local surface plasmon resonance. With spatial dimensions comparable to their biochemical targets, 1:1 molecular interaction between transducing elements and the local bioenvironment occurs with high probability; transducing elements must thus be designed for their ability to specifically, reliably and rapidly accept these interaction events, selectively amplify the resulting environmental change into a characteristic signal, and ultimately transfer this signal to the reporter elements for the production of a detectable biosensor output. A biosensor transducing layer also performs several auxiliary roles essential to the performance of the final device, particularly for applications such as biomanufacturing in which sample complexity and irregularity are high, and it is often a failure to adequately perform these secondary functions which limits the market viability of academically promising biosensor designs rather than fundamental quantum physical limitations of the device. Curbing this technology transfer failure rate requires intricate, cross-disciplinary understanding of the complex physicochemical mechanisms occurring at inorganic-organic system environment interfaces to effect precise control over biosensor performance, a requirement which enables me to work at the intersection of engineering, physics, biology and chemistry on a daily basis.  

General Research/Science Interests:
I am primarily interested in developments in medical, pharmaceutical and climate sciences, and in particular mechanisms by which their positive impact on public policy can be enhanced. 

CDT Involvement:
I am currently the Cohort 2020 student representative on the PIADS CDT Management Board and the Chair of the Doctoral Forum.  

Impact Activity:
I am active on gender equality, climate action and community relation issues. Currently I am a PGR Member of the QUB Maths and Physics Gender Equality Committee, where amongst other initiatives I manage the logistical, marketing and budgetary implementation of the MAP Period Freedom Scheme. I am also the co-founder and lead of the Maths and Physics STEMinist Network, alongside my QUB colleague Sinéad Mannion. 

Also within MAP, I am a Steering Committee Member and PGR Champion of the School Green Impact Team, where I manage the design of marketing materials to support the adoption of our green initiatives as well as look after the recently reinvigorated Maths & Physics Sky Garden.  

Beyond the School, I am a current board member of the NI Community Relations Council as part of a mentorship arrangement with the Commissioner for Public Appointments for Northern Ireland. The CRC is an arms-length body of the Northern Irish Executive which delivers the Executive’s “Together: Building a United Community (T:BUC)” strategy. I also support our local QUB student and staff community through my work as a community assistant within The Graduate School, and engage on employment issues relevant to doctoral students as a member of the Institute of Directors in Northern Ireland.   

Contact me:
Feel free to get in touch with me via email ( or on LinkedIn (emma-crothers-2020). 

EPSRC CDTs are designed to support students in achieving doctoral degrees in innovative areas of research, whilst also developing high-value skills in leadership, management, collaboration and creativity to maximise opportunities for future employment by setting their graduates apart from the rest. PIADS CDT exemplifies this ethos, and has enabled me to take on industry recognised qualifications in management, academic modules in photonics, and practical courses in nanofabrication alongside making a real contribution to cutting edge research within a pre-commercial start-up setting. The PIADS network of researchers, academics and industry partners is both wide-ranging and close-knit, and I have formed as many valuable connections for research collaboration during my three years in the programme as I have lasting personal friendships. 

Queen's University Belfast Crest

University of Glasgow Crest