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PhD and Employment Opportunities

General enquiries related to reserach positions in the Biomedical Physics group should be directed to the group's Academic Lead, or directly to members of academic staff.

Job vacancies

Current vacancies in academic and research positons are listed on the College's staff-vacancies list.

PhD Opportunities

Potential applicants should inspect the research projects listed below as examples of projects that can be hosted by the Biomedical Physics Group. Additional information on our training programs is available from the Postgraduate Research in Physics or the EPSRC Centre of Doctoral Training in Metamaterials pages.

Funded PhD Studentships

We are always recruiting to a number of Fully-funded PhD Studentships. We are currently inviting applications for the EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership with a deadline in early January. Indicative projects for these scholarships are listed with supervisors indicated in the list below. The funder of these projects (e.g. UKRI, university, industry) will normally pay tuition fees, and provide funds for a research, travel and training allowance, and a tax-free stipend to cover living expenses for the student.  Funder requirements and differing fee levels sometimes restrict these positions to UK or EU nationals.  Applicants can find several funded studentships also listed here. Please see the indiviual adverts for details.

PhD Project Proposals

The list below describes potential research projects that could provide a basis for an application to the currently advertised scholarships as part of the EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership.  They provide a basis for applicants to write research proposals in any applicantion they might make (e.g. Exeter's EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership or other university funding schemes, non-UK govenment or funding for international students etc).  Applicants are encouraged to discuss the project proposal with the named supervisors and together write a full studentship research proposal.  

This project aims to optimise sorting of biological cells according to their mechanical properties by utilising novel microfluidic devices.

Various diseases lead to alteration in the physical properties of the cell plasma membrane such as membrane elasticity, viscosity and electrostatics. This could compromise biological functions hosted by the plasma membrane.  Sorting of cells according to their physical properties is therefore an important step in understanding the effects of disease on membrane properties and cell function. This project will explore novel strategies for cell sorting based on their viscoelastic properties, using structured microfluidic devices with carefully controlled geometries. The concept will be validated on subpopulations of human red blood cells with different viscoelastic properties (membrane bending and shear moduli, membrane and cytoplasmic viscosity) and geometry (volume-to-area ration), all of which are important for cell deformability. Later stages of the project will focus on designing and implementing adaptive microfluidic devices capable of optimising cell sorting depending on particular cell properties in the subpopulations. This is an exciting interdisciplinary project suitable for a student interested to work on the boundary between physics and biology.

In modern biophysics it is critical to resolve molecular detail to reveal molecular mechanisms. For this reason new types of high resolution microscopy, often termed super-resolution microscopy, have had a big impact on biophysics.

In this project we will pursue a recently proposed alternative way to see near-molecular detail. Classical microscopy generates an enlarged image of a sample. The new modality termed ‘expansion microscopy’ replaces this with a more radical alternative - it physically magnifies, i.e. swells, the sample. This is achieved by attaching a biological sample to a gel matrix which is then expanded by swelling it (the gel material is similar to the gels used in nappies to absorb fluids). This can achieve up to 10-fold expansion in each direction, a remarkable physical magnification that increases effective resolution from ~250 nm to 25 nm using conventional microscopes - a scale that makes macromolecular complexes in biological samples accessible.

We will develop these new methods to investigate the structure of microscopic chemical signalling systems, called “nanodomains”, in heart cells which are critical for the forceful contraction of the heart.

Biography: I am an Associate Professor in Biomedical Spectroscopy at the School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Exeter. My research is focused on the development of Brillouin, Raman and FTIR spectroscopy and imaging methods for applications in life sciences and healthcare. I am particularly interested in the physical and chemical aspects of biological systems on a microscopic scale, as well as their implications in tissue function and pathology. Previously I developed the application of attenuated total reflection (ATR) FTIR spectroscopic imaging to atherosclerosis in animal models of the disease. I also applied ultrafast time-resolved optical Kerr effect (OKE) and complementary THz Raman spectroscopy to elucidate the dynamics, structure and interactions in ionic solutions. My PhD project was focused on investigating the hydrogen-bonding properties of isomeric octanols from liquid to supercritical fluid conditions using FTIR (mid and near infrared), Raman and depolarised Rayleigh scattering. I currently co-chair the EU COST Network BioBrillouin aimed to advance the development and applications of Brillouin spectroscopy in biomedical sciences. I am also co-investigator in the EPSRC Programme Grant “RaNT” which will develop novel nanotheranostics for translation of Raman spectroscopy to the clinics.

Please contact Prof Francesca Palombo

Phagocytosis is the fascinating process by which immune cells in our body search out, engulf and destroy foreign particles like bacteria. Almost all previous work in this area has only studied phagocytosis of spherical beads. This is despite real cells having to engulf a whole host of different target shapes including capped-cylinders (such as bacteria like E. coli), hourglasses (such as budding yeast during division) and tubes (such as asbestos fibres).

In this project, you will investigate how target shape and size affect phagocytosis, including which shapes can be engulfed and how long it takes. This will involve making particles of various interesting shapes, assaying how phagocytosis depends on particle shape and size using a new dual-micropipette system, and developing tools to automatically extract the success rate of phagocytosis.

This PhD will be based in purpose-built labs in the recently-opened Living Systems Institute. It will involve a combination of wet-lab experiments, microscopy, cell culture, and phagocytosis assays. It will also involve some image analysis using ImageJ and/or MATLAB. This will train you in an excellent combination of skills that will be valuable in your future career, be it within or outside academia

Neuroblastoma is a pediatric solid tumor of the sympathetic nervous system with an unmet need of novel treatment approaches. In-vitro cultured cancer cells can serve as important models for preclinical testing of anti-cancer compounds. 3D cell culture formats have emerged as powerful paradigms that can closely mimic in-vivo culture conditions. However, finding optimal conditions that allow the retention of original tumor features during in vitro 3D culturing of cancer cells is challenging. This research project builds upon a novel high-throughput imaging tool developed in FG lab which allows for the fast imaging and on-demand selection of flowing microdroplets using machine learning approaches. We will use imaging information for neural network training that will be used for selection of the best spheroids. The selected cultures will be subjected to differentiation with signalling molecules, before analysis for gene expression (via immunostaining) and/or high-content screening. This project will pave the way towards building neuroblastoma tumour development models for use in differentiation therapies.

The ability to generate ultra-short pulses of light has revolutionised biological imaging. Compressing energy delivery into femto-second timescales has enabled super-resolution optical imaging down to nanometric levels, and non-linear imaging capable of reporting the chemical composition of living systems in-situ. These techniques teach us how biological systems function and crucially, how they fail.

When an ultra-short optical pulse enters living tissue, it fragments and spreads out in both space and time. This scattering disrupts the formation of images deeper than a few hundred microns from the surface. Recently, the field of wavefront shaping has emerged as a powerful method to overcome some of these scattering effects. By 'pre-scrambling’ the light in just the right way before it enters the tissue, imaging can be achieved deep inside scattering systems. However, controlling light in both space and time, critical for ultra-short pulse delivery, is still an open challenge.

The aim of this project is to develop new technologies to control ultra-short optical pulses inside scattering systems, with the ultimate goal of imaging deeper inside living tissue. This builds on the wavefront shaping and non-linear optics experience in the Phillips and Winlove labs.

Migratory songbirds have a remarkable “sixth sense” that allows them to use the Earth’s magnetic field as a source of navigational information. This molecular compass is hypothesized to rely on the coherent spin dynamics of a radical pair of electrons, which are formed in the protein cryptochrome, located inside the animals’ eyes (Annu. Rev. Biophys. 45 (2016) 299). This remarkable, yet compelling, supposition relies on long-lived quantum coherences and entanglement, i.e. traits that are not typically associated with the wet, warm and noisy environment characteristic of living organisms.

Currently, the mechanism of magnetosensitivity is fiercely debated. While it has long been assumed that the process involves a light-induced reduction of the protein, this has failed to adequately explain sensitivity to weak geomagnetic fields. Instead, recent experiments point towards re-oxidation with molecular oxygen. This however raises new queries, as the associated radicals are subject to swift relaxation, which ought to abolish any magnetosensitivity. We aim to resolve this debate and propose a new mechanism that relies on three radicals and the chemical Zeno effect. We support projects to investigate the mysteries of cryptochrome magneto-reception, either by theoretical means (i.e. spin dynamic calculations based on the theory of open quantum systems) or by experiments, e.g. using time-resolved HDX-mass spectrometry.

Techniques such as X-ray crystallography and electron cryo-microscopy give us extraordinary insights into the structure of the components of life – with one caveat: the structures are static and cannot tell us directly about their dynamics and function. All-atom molecular dynamics simulations can be used to shed light on this, but are restricted to small proteins or protein complexes and very short time scales. However, their results can be used to build models with fewer degrees of freedom. This approach is called coarse-graining and allows one to simulate and study large protein complexes on biologically relevant time scales.

We propose to use this bottom-up coarse-graining approach to study the mechanisms of a variety of biological systems, for example molecular motors that function in microbial motility or the movement and adsorption of viruses in a dense population of bacteria.

Longitudinal growth of the bones in the human spine occurs at their interface with the intervertebral discs. This interface, called the endplate, comprises a layer of cartilage and bone and acts as the primary site of growth through propagation and calcification of the cartilage. A key component for healthy growth is the vast capillary network in the underlying bone. These capillaries supply nutrients, signals and materials required for growth to occur. We know little about this capillary network and a better understanding will provide a baseline for elucidating the mechanisms of abnormal growth such as seen in spinal deformity. The proposed project will address this knowledge gap by characterising the structure and function of the capillary network in a bovine model. The structure will be visualised, mapped and characterised using a range of novel microscopy and image analysis methods. The function will be assessed using a combination of imaging and perfusion experiments to determine fluid and solute transfer to and through the surrounding tissues. The effects of a mechanical load will also be evaluated.

As part of the leading Biospec unit based within Biophysics at the University of Exeter, you will have access to world leaders in applying Biophotonics solutions for healthcare needs. With our partner hospitals (Royal Devon and Exeter and Gloucestershire Hospitals) we seek to solve clinical needs with physical science based solutions.

We have currently projects working across:

Bio fluid spectroscopy and novel methods and instrumentation to provide molecular analysis of liquid biopsy samples for clinical diagnosis and monitoring of disease.

Nanomedicine combining nano constructs and photonics to provide both read out / detection / thermal therapeutics. We lead the EPSRC healthcare technologies Raman Nanotheranostics RaNT programme that explores novel nanotechnologies coupled to light for detection and monitoring of disease as well as triggering specific treatments. We have two funded studentships as part of this programme of work.

We host a EPSRC national user facility for coherent Raman imaging for biomedical samples - CONTRAST