The emerging role of biomolecular condensates formed through a liquid-liquid phase separation process inside biological cells is driving a paradigm change in our understanding of cellular organisation. They are critical for development and function, and their dysregulation plays a critical role in ageing and disease. One of the most exciting developments in this field is the growing evidence that condensates interact with other cellular components, such as lipid membranes and DNAs. Examples include the formation of protein storage vacuoles in Arabidopsis plant, condensate-mediated genome restructuring, and the degradation of harmful cytosolic cargoes during a process called autophagy.
The overall aim of this PhD project is to identify and develop governing principles of wetting and interfacial forces of biomolecular condensates in biological cells, which we broadly term as intracellular capillarity. Key questions to be addressed in the project can include: 1) how can we infer material properties of biomolecular condensates, such as surface tension, viscosity, and elasticity, inside the cells? 2) what are the roles of confinement and substrate deformation in the formation and growth of biomolecular condensates? 3) what biological functions are played by capillary forces in cellular organisation and how can we engineer them?
Depending on the interests of the applicant, the project could be mainly analytical, computational or could combine numerics with analytical work. The project will also involve close collaborations with our experimental partners both in the UK and internationally.
It is expected that the applicant will have a good degree in Engineering, Physics, Mathematics or any related subject. We are particularly keen to hear from applicants who are interested in interdisciplinary research in the areas of soft matter and biophysics. The student will join Prof Halim Kusumaatmaja’s group which will move to the Institute for Multiscale Thermofliuds at the University of Edinburgh in May 2024. The student will also benefit from a vibrant community of PhD students, postdoctoral research associates and academics working in various aspects of soft matter and biophysics in Edinburgh.
Further information about Prof Halim Kusumaatmaja’s group can be found in: https://sites.google.com/site/kusumaatmaja/home
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Prof Halim Kusumaatmaja
Minimum entry qualification - an Honours degree at 2:1 or above (or International equivalent) in a relevant science or engineering discipline, possibly supported by an MSc Degree. Further information on English language requirements for EU/Overseas applicants.
Tuition fees + stipend are available for Home/EU and International students