Bill Williams and Catherine Whitby at Massey University in New Zealand have a MacDiarmid Institute (http://macdiarmid.ac.nz/) sponsored PhD position available. The project focuses on using the tools of soft matter science to understanding cell biomechanics. It would suit a student interested in using a combination of experimental techniques, including surface characterisation tools, microscopy and mechanical testing, to characterise the structure and function of the biopolymers found in cells.
Biopolymers in cells assemble into network structures: the cytoskeleton that fills the interior and the cell walls that surround them. Controlling the mechanical properties of the cytoskeleton and the cell walls is crucial for the ability of cells to change shape and to divide. Their biopolymer networks extend throughout the cell, forming a gel. The viscoelasticity of these gels controls how cells work. Despite the progress made in soft matter science in the characterisation of the physical and chemical properties of gels, we understand little of how to apply this to cell biomechanics. Predicting the mechanical response of the cytoskeleton and of cell walls is the ultimate test of our understanding of how complex biopolymer networks deform under stress.
This project aims to develop an artificial cell system comprising of aqueous biopolymer gel drops in oil that reproduce the responses of real cells. We will mimic different types of cells by manipulating the elasticity of biopolymers both inside the drops and those at the drop surfaces (mimicking the properties of cell membranes and walls). We have the advantage of access to experimental techniques that can range from probing the properties of biopolymers on the microscopic scale up to droplet deformation on the macroscopic scale. This project offers you the opportunity to do ground-breaking research in soft matter and biophysics and to become an expert in microscopy and rheology techniques.
To apply, please contact Catherine (C.P.Whitby@massey.ac.nz), with your curriculum vitae by 30th of November. Please also email her if you have questions about the position.