Formaldehyde is a colourless gas that is hazardous to human health, but is also a valuable industrial chemical with limited alternatives. Emissions from new products can cause formaldehyde gas to build up to potentially unsafe levels in indoor environments. However, cost-effective solutions for measuring this gas are currently limited.
This PhD project aims to develop a new, low-cost sensor technology for detection of formaldehyde gas in the indoor environment. This will be based on measuring formaldehyde’s optical absorption in the UV region of the spectrum using LEDs. The project is funded by the EPSRC and Alphasense Ltd, a leading UK-based manufacturer of gas sensors. Read more Read less

There has been considerable recent attention paid to the quality of the air we breathe in the outdoor environment, especially in urban spaces with high traffic densities. But with today’s demands for improved energy efficiency, indoor spaces have lower levels of ventilation and therefore gases and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can build up in the indoor environment, for example in housing and office spaces. Formaldehyde is often described as the most prevalent VOC in indoor environments and is carcinogenic. However, it is difficult to measure at parts per billion (ppb) concentrations and there is a need for a cost-effective sensor for formaldehyde to ensure air quality.

Previous work at the Centre for Engineering Photonics at Cranfield University, also in collaboration with Alphasense Ltd, has established a measurement strategy for formaldehyde based on its optical absorption in the ultra-violet region of the spectrum. Using UV LEDs as our light source, we plan to build on this work to develop an ultra-sensitive formaldehyde sensor.

This is an EPSRC/industrially sponsored position in the Centre for Engineering Photonics at Cranfield University. We work at the forefront of optical sensing and instrumentation research, with a broad portfolio and an emphasis on the development of instrumentation to tackle difficult measurement problems, while offering scope for more speculative, blue sky research.  We are a wholly research-based centre, with modern well-equipped laboratories, and offer an inclusive supervision environment with the opportunity to be part of a larger research team.

Alphasense Ltd is a leading supplier of gas sensors in applications including air quality and industrial safety. They bring an industrial and manufacturing perspective to the project and have advanced sensor test facilities at their base in Essex, UK.

The project also includes collaboration with the Atmospheric Chemistry Group at the University of Leicester, who have advanced analytical facilities and expertise relating to high quality formaldehyde measurement.

If successful, this project could lead to development and commercialisation of a useful sensor that, being cost-effective, would have a widespread positive impact on indoor air quality worldwide. There is potential for publishing a number of papers in high quality academic journals.

This project combines high-quality research in optics and photonics, advanced analytical expertise and a strong industrial perspective. While highly applied, the project will be technically challenging and offers the chance to make a contribution at the forefront of optical gas detection. It will also develop communication skills and experience in multidisciplinary collaboration. Funding is available for the student to present their work at national and international conferences, as well as for travel to our collaborators. You will be based in a world-leading centre that has an active and supportive cohort of PhD students and a strong team culture across a variety of optical technologies, with a high level of cross-fertilisation of ideas.

All students in the Centre for Engineering Photonics receive advanced training and coaching in the science of optical measurement, starting with our Introduction to Photonics experimental programme. Additional skills in LabVIEW, Python, Zemax optical design software and measurement science are developed during the project. We find the technical, project management and communication skills developed for a PhD are both transformative and highly sought after, with many ex-students embarking on successful careers in either academia or industry.

Application deadline:18th April 2022

Start date: 26th Sept 2022

At a glance

  • Application deadline17 Jul 2022
  • Award type(s)PhD
  • Start date26 Sep 2022
  • Duration of award3 years
  • EligibilityUK
  • Reference numberSATM263

Entry requirements

Applicants should have a background in the physical sciences / engineering with a good UK honours degree (1st or 2.1), or equivalent and / or an MSc, in a relevant subject. This project will appeal to candidates who wish to apply their technical skills in real-world applications.

Applicants are welcome from a wide range of backgrounds and many of our students complete a PhD following a period (or even a career) in industry. We can offer flexible start dates throughout the year.


Sponsored by Alphasense Ltd, this studentship provides an enhanced stipend of £18,000 (tax free) plus fees for three years.         

To be eligible for this funding, applicants must be a UK national. We require that applicants are under no restrictions regarding how long they can stay in the UK i.e. have no visa restrictions or applicant has “settled status” and has been “ordinarily resident” in the UK for 3 years prior to start of studies and has not been residing in the UK wholly or mainly for the purpose of full-time education.

About the sponsor

This studentship is sponsored by Alphasense Ltd. 

Alphasense Ltd is a leading supplier of gas sensors in applications including air quality and industrial safety. 

Cranfield Doctoral Network

Research students at Cranfield benefit from being part of a dynamic, focused and professional study environment and all become valued members of the Cranfield Doctoral Network. This network brings together both research students and staff, providing a platform for our researchers to share ideas and collaborate in a multi-disciplinary environment. It aims to encourage an effective and vibrant research culture, founded upon the diversity of activities and knowledge. A tailored programme of seminars and events, alongside our Doctoral Researchers Core Development programme (transferable skills training), provide those studying a research degree with a wealth of social and networking opportunities.

How to apply

For further information please contact:

Name: Dr Jane Hodgkinson

If you are eligible to apply for this studentship, please complete the online application form.