Microscopy With a Deformable Mirror: Dynamic Control of Aberrations For 3D Super-Resolution Imaging - EPSRC DTP funded PhD Studentship Ref: 2958

About the award

This project is one of a number funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Doctoral Training Partnership to commence in September 2018. This project is in direct competition with others for funding; the projects which receive the best applicants will be awarded the funding.

The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-2018. It will provide research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.

Please note that of the total number of projects within the competition, up to 15 studentships will be filled.

Professor Christian Soeller
Dr. Alexander Corbett
Dr. Mike Deeks

Streatham Campus

Project Description
Overcoming the diffraction-limit, which in microscopy limits distinguishing objects closer than half the wavelength of light (~250 nm), by optical super-resolution microscopy1 has opened a window on both synthetic and biological nanostructures. By manipulating the properties of a fluorescence microscope, characterized by its points spread function, it becomes possible to localize individual fluorescent molecules in 3D. Critical for 3D localization is the introduction of specific aberrations (e.g. astigmatism) to allow the accurate determination of the focus distance of small objects. We have previously used such super-resolution imaging approaches using ‘static’ 3D techniques2,3.

The primary goal of this project is to integrate a deformable mirror (DM) device in the detection path of a super-resolution fluorescence microscope to enable dynamic control of aberrations. Similar to adaptive optics techniques first developed in astronomy, the use of a DM will give tremendous flexibility to alter the optical microscope properties under computer control.

To achieve this goal the research tasks of the student will include:
• Design and implementation of an optical detection path in a microscope setup that incorporates the deformable mirror device
• Development of algorithms to control the deformable mirror and generate user selected aberrations for accurate localisation
• Application of the new capability to conduct improved super-resolution imaging of synthetic and biological nanostructures
All equipment components, including a deformable mirror, are available in the supervisors’ laboratory to ensure a swift start to the project. Several state-of-the-art super-resolution approaches are in regular use in the supervisors’ laboratories.

The project provides funding to support a student for 3.5 years.

Training and skills
The successful candidate will acquire skills in the application and development of optical super-resolution techniques which are increasingly important for nanotechnology, as well as biophysical and healthcare applications. The candidate will implement and apply image analysis and mirror control techniques and gain key skills in optical design, quantitative image analysis, algorithmic control and computer programming. The candidate will also be trained in preparing samples for microscope characterisation. He/she will have the opportunity to work in a highly interdisciplinary environment and contribute to approaches that will be highly relevant as future biotechnology and healthcare technologies.

The supervisory team have previously used optical methods to obtain insights into the biophysics of cells4,5. Their laboratories have extensive experience with the optical and algorithmic basis of DM based microscope control and the application to cellular samples. The new approaches will enable new insight into nanostructures as well as enable healthcare approaches6 with the long-term goal to inform clinical healthcare practice.

1. Sauer M, Soeller C, Hanrahan O. Science 2015;350:699–9.
2. Baddeley D, Crossman D, Rossberger S, et al. PLoS ONE 2011;6:e20645.
3. Baddeley D, Cannell MB, Soeller C. Nano Res 2011;4:589–98.
4. Soeller C, Baddeley D. J Mol Cell Cardiol 2013;58:32–40.
5. Burton RAB, Klimas A, Ambrosi CM, et al. Nature Photonics 2015;9:813–6.
6. Crossman DJ, Ruygrok PN, Hou YF, et al. Heart Fail Rev 2015;20:203–14.

Entry Requirements
You should have or expect to achieve at least a 2:1 Honours degree, or equivalent, in Biophysics, Engineering or a related subject. Experience in at least one of the areas of optics, biophysics or programming is desirable.

If English is not your first language you will need to meet the English language requirements and provide proof of proficiency. Click here for more information and a list of acceptable alternative tests.

The majority of the studentships are available for applicants who are ordinarily resident in the UK and are classed as UK/EU for tuition fee purposes.  If you have not resided in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the studentship, you are not eligible for a maintenance allowance so you would need an alternative source of funding for living costs. To be eligible for fees-only funding you must be ordinarily resident in a member state of the EU.  For information on EPSRC residency criteria click here.

Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are NOT eligible for funding. International students interested in studying at the University of Exeter should search our funding database for alternative options.


Application deadline:10th January 2018
Value:3.5 year studentship: UK/EU tuition fees and an annual maintenance allowance at current Research Council rate. Current rate of £14,553 per year.
Duration of award:per year
Contact: Doctoral Collegepgrenquiries@exeter.ac.uk

How to apply

You will be required to upload the following documents:
•       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 current
        proficiency in English.  For further details of the University’s English language requirements please see

The closing date for applications is midnight (GMT) on Wednesday 10 January 2018.  Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter in late February 2018.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email: pgrenquiries@exeter.ac.uk.
Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor.

During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

• the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
• administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.