Development of an Instrument for Rapidly Detecting Cryptosporidium in Drinking Water

Lead Research Organisation: Heriot-Watt University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering and Physical Science


Cryptosporidium is a waterborne microorganism which causes severe diarrhoea and can be fatal for immuno-compromised individuals, infants and young children. It is estimated that Cryptosporidium contamination of drinking water results in 250-500 million cases each year in developing countries and 60,000 in the UK alone. The Cryptosporidium organism has a thick outer wall that is resistant to many conventional water treatment methods, and outbreaks are a problem even in the developed world, negatively impacting population health and economic development - daily monitoring of the water supply is required.

Current Cryptosporidium detection methods are expensive and highly time-consuming - requiring microscopic examination by skilled scientists. Furthermore, these techniques lack species and viability information, which is essential to make well-informed public health decisions. There is, therefore, a pressing need for an instrument capable of rapidly analysing drinking water samples for the presence, species and viability of Cryptosporidium microorganisms.

In this project we will develop a novel instrument capable of rapidly detecting Cryptosporidium microorganisms in drinking water. The instrument will operate using Raman spectroscopy, a well established laser spectroscopy technique. In Raman spectroscopy, a laser is fired at the sample of interest, some of the photons scatter inelastically from the molecules in the sample, losing energy by inducing vibrations in the sample molecules. The scattered photons are shifted in wavelength (as first observed by Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, winner of the 1930 Nobel prize for Physics) and the spectrum of scattered light acts as a molecular "fingerprint", containing highly specific information about the molecular composition and bond structure of the sample.

Work has already been conducted which demonstrates that Raman spectroscopy can be used to identify Cryptosporidium in drinking water, but current instruments are too slow for real world applications. In this project we will build a new type of Raman spectroscopy instrument capable of measuring the Raman spectra of hundreds of points simultaneously. This instrument will facilitate the rapid testing capability necessary for real world water testing applications, providing detailed test information in a few hours.

Planned Impact

We anticipate that this project will result in a wide variety of short, medium and long term positive impacts.

The UK public - The primary aim of the project is to develop an instrument capable of rapidly detecting Cryptosporidium in concentrated drinking water samples in an automated fashion. As detailed in the Case for Support (CfS), and also in the Letter of Support (LoS) provided by Scottish Water, Cryptosporidium contamination of drinking water poses a significant health risk - even in the UK. Furthermore, it is difficult to detect using current techniques and it is resistant to treatment. Our instrument has the potential to significantly improve the efficiency and accuracy of Cryptosporidium detection, with a clear benefit to the UK public health. As detailed in the CfS, by the end of the project we plan to have developed the instrument to a technology readiness level (TRL) of ~7 by Month 16. At this point we will be well positioned to leverage the follow-on funding necessary to develop a fully turn-key and qualified Cryptosporidium detection system. We therefore anticipate that the full impact of this project on the UK public health will begin to be realised in the medium term, 2-4 years after the project. We also expect that our instrument could be used to provide additional screening capability in the short-term at Scottish Water directly following the project, but clearly this will be in addition to standard protocols.

The UK Economy - This project consists of three industry partners; Scottish Water, Renishaw and Optoscribe. An important stated objective of this project is to efficiently transfer commercially relevant technologies to these partners. Scottish Water will be the end-users of our instrument, and will benefit from an enhanced and more efficient Cryptosporidium detection capability. Renishaw are keen to explore the potential of developing a wide-field rapid Raman microscope based on our multiplexed instrument concept. Optoscribe is a high-tech SME, of which Thomson (project PI) is a Co-Founder and Co-Director. As detailed in their LoS, Optoscribe anticipate that this project will produce commercially relevant intellectual property in the ultrafast laser inscription area (Optoscribe's core technology) which could be licensed by, or co-developed with, Optoscribe. It is clear, therefore, that this project has the potential to enhance the competitiveness of all our project partners, with a benefit to the UK economy. This economic impact may be realised in the short term (before the project is finished) in the case of Optoscribe, and in the medium / long term in the case of Scottish Water and Renishaw through the development of a turn-key water monitoring system and new commercial Raman systems respectively.

Researchers - This project is highly multidisciplinary in nature, and provides an excellent opportunity to train researchers in a variety of applied areas of science and engineering e.g. optical fibre development, laser processing, optical design, Raman spectroscopy, single-photon counting and software development. This multidisciplinary nature will particularly benefit the PDRA which will be hired at Heriot-Watt for the duration of the project, and also the student who will undertake his/her Ph.D research (supported by Renishaw) as part of this project. The training of these researchers will also result in a significant benefit to the UK economy, by providing highly skilled scientists - the key to a high-tech, high-value, innovation based economy. The impact of the project in these areas will be realised in the short-to-medium term, directly following the end of the project.


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Chandrasekharan HK (2017) Multiplexed single-mode wavelength-to-time mapping of multimode light. in Nature communications

Description During this project, we have demonstrated a new way to efficiently couple multimode states of light to a two-dimensional array of single-photonic avalanche detectors (developed at the U. of Edinburgh), each of which has its own time-to-digital convertor. Our method relies on the use of a photonic lantern, fabricated at the University of Bath, using a custom multicore fibre (MCF) with 121 single-mode cores arranged in a square array pattern. Using a 290 m long MCF, researchers at Heriot Watt University demonstrated a new way to perform single-mode wavelength-to-time mapping of multimode states of light, with potential applications in Raman spectroscopy. Our SPAD coupling technology may also find future applications in areas such as highly multiplexed coherent LIDAR and quantum optics.
Exploitation Route We have complete the proof of concept work, as one would expect for a short (2 year project), we now need to win further funding to take forward the concept.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment,Healthcare

Description There has been no impact beyond the academic arena as yet. However, the techniques that we have developed are expected to be enabling for a variety of applications, in areas such as scanning microscopy and coherent LIDAR. In the boxes below, I have selected those that we expect our findings will impact, We were also awarded an Innovate UK / EPSRC grant to take forward the quantum-optic applications of the detector coupling capability we demonstrated in this project, in collaboration with Photon Force
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment,Healthcare
Impact Types Economic

Description Low noise, high-throughput, time-resolved single-photon sensor for quantum applications
Amount £166,889 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R020981/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2017 
End 03/2019
Description Dr Robert Henderson 
Organisation University of Edinburgh
Department School of Engineering
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I am leading the development of a novel Raman microscope system which will utilise detectors developed at the U. of Edinburgh
Collaborator Contribution Supply of new detector technologies
Impact None as yet
Start Year 2014