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University of Exeter funding: Nanochemistry - Functional ‘Smart

Nanochemistry - Functional ‘Smart’ Nanoparticles and their Sensing Applications - PhD Physics (Funded) Ref: 3886

About the award


Academic Supervisor

Prof Frank Vollmer, Living Systems Institute, University of Exeter.


The University of Exeter’s Living Systems Institute is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence in November 2019 or as soon as possible thereafter.  For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £15,009 for 3.5 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study. The student would be based at the Living Systems Institute in the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences at the Streatham Campus in Exeter.

Project Description:
Smart Nanoparticles for Sensing and Manipulation of Single Biomolecules

Laser light can be used to perform multiple roles, including sensing, manipulating and moving objects. It is remarkable that the application of light allows one to detect single molecules and exert minute optical forces on individual molecules. By detecting and pulling on individual molecules it has been possible to study DNA and protein structures in great detail. Single-molecule sensing and manipulation has led to significant advances in chemistry and biophysics:

You will develop an entirely novel and much more sensitive technology to detect and manipulate single molecules with light. You will develop smart nanoparticles as optical nanosensors. The smart nanoparticles will provide you with an eye into the nanoworld where you will detect and manipulate single molecules. Smart nanoparticles will provide you with optical 'hands' to probe and feel-out miniscule forces of biomolecules. You will study the forces that move motor proteins and enzymes. Smart nanoparticle sensors will allow you to precisely sense and measure the energetics of conformational changes of motor proteins and enzymes, i.e. their own deforming motion. Such measurements will provide you with fundamental insights into the miniscule forces that drive the Nano world and which you will measure for the first time. See

The technology developed in this programme is based on smart nanoparticles. In the first part of the project you will work with chemists to develop and synthesise nanoparticle-based single molecule sensors. In the second part of the project you will work with physicists to combine the nanoparticle sensors with optical instrumentation to detect and manipulate single molecules. You will use the nanoparticle based sensor technology not only to sense forces exerted by enzymes, but also to manipulate the complex motions of active enzymes. Such control offers the possibility of making some patterns of molecular organisation in an enzyme more likely than another, and can be used to control enzymatic activity.

What we are looking for: well-motivated students with background in either physical chemistry, nanotechnology, nano sensing, biophysics, engineering, physics, single molecules or optical tweezer.

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 £15,009 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 September 2020 or earlier.

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 6.5  in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable (see

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several 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)
• Up to two references from referees familiar with your academic work. If your referees prefer, they can email the reference direct to quoting the studentship reference number 3886.
• 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 June 30th 2020.  Interviews will be held on the University of Exeter Streatham Campus in the following weeks.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone +44 (0)1392 725801 or +44 (0)1392 725150.  Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor


Application deadline:30th June 2020
Duration of award:per year
Contact: STEMM PGR Admissions