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Plasma surface modification for applications in microfluidic diagnostic systems and implantable cardiovascular devices


You will develop novel hemocompatible, bioactive surfaces in microfluidic models for cardiovascular applications. 
The project is part of an existing collaboration between medical scientists from the Central Medical School and Heart Research Institute with plasma physicists and materials scientist from the Schools of Physics and Biomedical Engineering. In this context, students working on it will develop the skills required to communicate and work successfully as part of a multidisciplinary team. Mentoring from across all of these fields will be provided. 
There are a number of PhD projects, both experimental and theoretical, available. The projects present opportunities to learn and utilize a wide range of physical and biochemical surface characterization techniques, including attenuated total internal reflection Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (ATR-FTIR); X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS); scanning electron microscopy (SEM); electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy; tensiometry for surface energy analysis; visible/ UV and IR ellipsometry; atomic force microscopy (AFM) and surface profilometry. Biochemical and biomedical techniques include enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), fluorescence and confocal microscopy, flow cytometry and cell culture. Through collaboration with plasma physicists, the project will also provide exposure to a variety of plasma processes for materials modification and advanced plasma diagnostic equipment, including fast CCD camera, high resolution gated optical emission spectroscopy (OES), ion energy analysers and Langmuir probes. Theoretical studies for microfluidic systems design will utilize finite element codes such as COMSOL or ANSYS.

A complimentary scholarship for this project may be available through a competitive process. To find out more, refer to the Faculty of Science Postgraduate Research Excellence Award and contact Prof Marcela Bilek directly. The supervisory team also consists of Dr Anna Waterhouse, Central Clinical School, Faculty of Medicine and Health.  


Professor Marcela Bilek.

Research location

School of Physics

Program type



Challenge: To create materials and medical devices that are compatible with the body and prevent adverse biological reactions to medical devices. 
Mission: Develop materials and surface coatings that do not cause blood clots (thrombosis) whilst providing optimal interactions with biological systems.  
Overview: Medical device use is increasing with the increasing disease burden of aging populations. However, despite technological improvements, medical devices are lagging behind due to a lack of compatibility of medical device materials with the body. There is an urgent clinical need to understand how the interactions of blood and materials cause blood clots (thrombosis) and to develop materials that reduce thrombosis. Materials that can prevent thrombosis will represent a major advance for implantable biomedical devices as well as for ex-vivo diagnostic or disease/physiology modelling platforms.  
Group/Team: Join a multi-disciplinary lab with expertise in biology, bioengineering, applied physics and materials science, and have access to the world class research facilities in the Charles Perkins Centre, the Sydney Nano Institute and the Australian Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis. Opportunities to travel to international collaborating laboratories including to the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, will be part of the project. Project: This project will develop methods to understand the interactions of blood components (blood proteins, platelets and leukocytes) with medical device materials that have been modified by plasma-based techniques. In particular, plasma activated coatings (PAC) and plasma immersion ion implantation (PIII) have been used to modify surface properties of multiple medical grade materials to manipulate biological response. PAC modified materials have shown excellent blood compatibility, but the mechanism by which this occurs is currently unknown. This multidisciplinary project aims to study the effects of both low pressure and recently developed atmospheric pressure plasma processes for surface modification and functionalisation of materials used in implantable biomedical and microfluidic devices. State-of-the-art biomedical assays will be used to reveal the mechanisms underpinning the thrombogenicity of the surface modified materials both with and without immobilized biofunctional molecules present. Differences in blood responses to untreated, plasma treated, and biofunctionalized channels will provide insight into the effects of particular surface properties on thrombosis. The most promising surface modifications will be translated towards applications with industrial and clinical partners. 
The knowledge generated can ultimately be used to improve or generate new materials for use in medical devices to improve their function and patient outcomes.

Additional information

The student should have a background in Medical Science, Science, Biomedical Engineering, Physics, Engineering, Materials Science, Nanotechnology or a related discipline that includes experience in fundamental laboratory experimental techniques, clean room work and/or general fabrication work and good written and verbal communication skills. Experience in Physics or Engineering or related discipline is highly desirable.   
Successful applicants will receive a PhD stipend to support subsistence and living costs, through a competative process. Top-ups, and possibly tuition fee scholarships are also available for students through a competative process, who meet the eligibility requirements. Contact Prof Marcela Bilek directly. 
HDR Inherent Requirements: In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include: 

  • Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
  • Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
  • Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;
  • Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);
  • Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
  • Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
  • Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;
  • Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
  • Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
  • Hold a current scuba diving license;
  • Hold a current Working with Children Check;
  • Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)
You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

Want to find out more?

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is 2821

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