Optical Nanosensors for Biochemical Analysis of Single Molecules – PhD Physics (Funded) Ref: 2761

About the award

The University of Exeter’s College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence as soon as possible.  For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £14,553 for 3.5 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study.  The student will be based in Physics in the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences at the Streatham Campus in Exeter.

Location: Exeter

Academic Supervisor: Professor Frank Vollmer, University of Exeter

Project Description:

Nature is an extraordinary biochemist. She has developed a rich set of tools to manipulate molecules in highly specific ways: proteins copy whole genomes, and molecular machines build our complex bodies. The chemical factories in our cells synthesize intricate signalling molecules such as steroid hormones; and they break-down existing molecular machines when they are no longer needed.

The goal of this project is to harness the extraordinary capabilities of nature’s biomolecules for analytical chemistry. To achieve this, we will develop a novel optical approach to visualise biochemistry at the nanoscale. By observing biochemical transformations individually, we will analyse molecules in ways that were not possible before: We will unravel the genetic information stored on single DNA or RNA molecules. We will readout epigenetic information, nuances in our genome that are stored in the chemical modifications to our DNA. We will also reveal alterations in protein structure that can be indicative of diseases such as dementia or cancer.

We will realise this precision analytical chemistry by combining the ultra-specific chemistry of enzymes with the extraordinary sensing capabilities of light. Prof Vollmer’s laboratory has pioneered optical technology to study processes at the nanoscale and at the level of single molecules. The application of his optical technology to analytical chemistry will lead the required breakthrough for biomolecular analysis that is beyond the current state of the art.

Contact for Informal Enquiries: Professor Frank Vollmer

This award provides annual funding to cover UK/EU tuition fees and a tax-free stipend.  For students who pay UK/EU tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £14,553 per year tax-free stipend.  Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply, but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee and no stipend.

The studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit for 3.5 years of full-time study to commence in as soon as possible.  

Entry requirements:

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology.
If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.0 in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable (see http://www.exeter.ac.uk/postgraduate/apply/english/).

How to apply

Click here to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.
• CV
• Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).
• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)
• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English

The closing date for applications is midnight on Sunday October 8, 2017.  Interviews will be held on the University of Exeter Streatham Campus the week commencing October 16, 2017.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email ems-pgr-ad@exeter.ac.uk or phone +44 (0)1392 724365/722730.  Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor.


Application deadline:10th October 2017
Number of awards:1
Value:£14,553 for 3.5 years
Duration of award:per year
Contact: STEMM PGR Office emps-pgr-ad@exeter.ac.uk