Applying a novel microfluidic membrane device to the characterization of biofilm hydraulic resistance


Microfluidics, optical microscopy, biophysics, environmental microbiology


Within modern environmental water treatment systems, such as micro and ultrafiltration membrane filtration, the growth of bacterial biofilm dramatically increases hydraulic resistance, causing severe energy losses. Biofilms are communities of bacteria encased within a self-secreted extracellular matrix (ECM), and it is the composition and microstructure of the ECM that determines biofilm water permeability. To improve water filtration systems, we require a systematic understanding of how ECM hydraulic resistance varies as a function of hydrostatic pressure.
Using a novel microfluidic platform that enables simultaneous monitoring of ECM secretion and hydraulic resistance, you will perform a series of high throughput experiments to reveal the relationship between hydrostatic pressure, biofilm hydraulic resistance, and ECM secretion. Are you a motivated student who wants to work at the interface of biophysics and environmental engineering? Join us!

Skills you will learn

  • Development, fabrication, and deployment of microfluidic experimental platforms
  • Bacterial culture technique
  • Microscopy (Fluorescence and Confocal)
  • Image analysis (Python)


To perform experiments to compile a dataset of hydraulic resistances and structural properties of bacterial biofilms using a library of biofilm ECM mutants. There is flexibility for the student to suggest complementary experiments using the microfluidic platform.

Project start

01.03.2024 – 30.06.2024


Environmental Microfluidics Laboratory, IfU, D-BAUG (ETH Zurich, Hoenggerberg campus)

Project type

This project can be adapted for Master Thesis or Master Project.

Contact details

Dr. Sam Charlton,

Dr. Eleonora Secchi,