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Current PhD vacancies are listed below. See the postgraduate pages for more information on our PhD programmes.

Experimental Modeling of Optimal Search Strategies with Bioinspired Nanorobots at University College London (D/L:31/01/19)

Subject areas: Biophysics, Nanotechnology, Engineering, Experimental Soft Matter Physics

A fully funded PhD studentship is available to work under the supervision of Dr Giorgio Volpe on the experimental development of a model system to study the physics of foraging based on the use of bioinspired nanomachines capable of autonomous movement.

Please visit our group website for more details about our research: https://activematterlab.org

When locating one or multiple targets in space within time constraints, adopting the right search strategy can make the difference between succeeding and failing within the allocated time. At different scales, this applies to nanomachines navigating through living tissue for diagnostics and therapy, to animals foraging in natural landscapes and to (human and robotic) rescuers during search-and-rescue operations in disaster zones. In the absence of environmental cues and with limited cognitive abilities that could drive the motion of the searching agent, random searches represent established search patterns in homogeneous topographies. The scope of this PhD studentship is to experimentally determine what is the best collective search strategy for a group of active particles in realistic search scenarios, where physical obstacles and barriers are present, under the constraint of minimal or no information exchange. For this study, in particular, bioinspired self-propelling colloidal particles will be developed and employed as a versatile and scalable model system for macroscopic swarms of searching agents.

The successful applicant should have or expect to achieve a Masters-level degree (1st or 2:1 or equivalent for European degrees) in a relevant subject, e.g. Physics, Engineering, Natural Science or Materials Science, and an interest in working at the interface between biophysics, soft matter and photonics. The successful applicant will demonstrate strong interest and self-motivation in the subject, good experimental practice and the ability to think analytically and creatively. Good computer skills as well as presentation and writing skills in English are required. Previous experience in experimental soft matter and programming are desirable.

To apply in first instance, please email a motivation letter, an up-to-date CV and contact details for 2 referees to Dr Giorgio Volpe (g.volpe@ucl.ac.uk) who may also be approached for informal enquires. Ideal starting date: March 2019. The application deadline is 31 January 2019 but the position will be closed as soon as a suitable applicant has been selected.

Please note that due to funding restrictions only UK/EU citizens are eligible for this studentship.

Suitable candidates will be required to complete an electronic application form at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/graduate/apply. Any admissions queries should be directed to Dr Jadranka Butorac (j.butorac@ucl.ac.uk).

 

Systems Chemistry: Non-Equilibrium Synthesis and the Origins of Life (D/L:28/02/2019)

Applications are invited from suitably qualified candidates for one three-year PhD Studentship. The Studentship is fully funded by the Volkswagen Foundation and available from September 2019, depending on applicant availability. The successful candidate will be based in the Department of Chemistry at UCL and supervised by Dr Matthew Powner.

The PhD project will investigate the underlying chemistry of nucleic acid and peptide synthesis and their selective polymerisation. The Powner group has developed world-leading organic chemistry to probe the origins of the core metabolite that underpin biological form and function. Now, through collaboration with leading biophysicists at LMU Munich in Germany, the influence of non-equilibrium conditions on these synthetic methodologies will be investigated. The PhD project is part of an international experimental work package designed to unravel a key missing element in the search for the Origins of Life on Earth by elucidating a novel mechanistic understanding of prebiotically important physicochemical interactions and novel synthetic methodologies.

This is a very exciting opportunity for student with a strong chemistry background to tackle one of the biggest questions in science. The successful candidate will join a group of highly motivate scientists (5 post-doctoral research associates, 6 PhD and 3 MRes students) working to elucidate the chemistry that underpins the Origins of Life on Earth. The student will directly collaborate with three groups at LMU Munich, Germany.  Dr Powner is an investigator of the Simons Foundation (New York, USA) and broader international collaborative interactions within the on going Simons Foundation Collaboration on the Origins of Life (www.simonsfoundation.org/life-sciences/origins-of-life/simons-collaborat...), as well as with members of a newly established EU Marie Sklodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network, are anticipated.

The minimum requirement is a first class or upper second-class honours degree (MSci, MChem) or equivalent. Applications, including a cover letter and full and up-to-date CV, together with the names, addresses and email addresses of two academic referees should be sent as soon as possible to Dr Powner (matthew.powner@ucl.ac.uk). Informal enquiries may also be made with Dr Powner. The deadline for applications is 5 p.m. GMT on 28 February 2019. Due to studentship regulations, only UK and EU students are eligible to apply for this post.

 

A 4-year EngD Studentship in the Origin of Mutagenesis in DNA caused by Polycyclic Aromatic Molecules(D/L:31/01/2019)

Co-supervisors: Professor Peter Coveney, Department of Chemistry, UCL; Mr. Paul Best, CBK Sci Con; Dr. Alya Arabi, Department of life and environmental Sciences, ZU.
Application deadline: 31 January 2019
Start date: 24 September 2019

The UCL Centre for Doctoral Training in Molecular Modelling and Materials Science is offering a fully funded studentship to a highly motivated candidate to start in September 2019. The studentship will cover tuition fees at UK/EU rate plus a maintenance stipend of £18550 (tax free) per annum for four years. The project will involve a collaboration with Zayed University in the UAE, and CBK Sci Con Ltd (http://www.cbkscicon.com), an HPC and e-Science consultancy which works with a wide variety of international partners.

The purpose of this research project is to determine the extent of point mutations in DNA caused by different intercalators occurring in gasoline and related petroleum products, including inter alia naphthalene and benzopyrene.  Gasoline, mainly because of its polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), has been classified as a Group A Class I human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and by the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Cancer is fundamentally caused by mutations in DNA.

We plan to study two aspects of the process whereby such mutations may arise. In the first, selected PAH compounds will be studied and their binding affinities estimated to various sequences of DNA in order to assess their propensity to intercalating between DNA base pairs using methods based on classical mechanics.  In the second stage, quantum mechanical methods (mainly based on ab initio and density functional theory) will be used to study the factors that promote chemical transformation of DNA bases, leading in turn to carcinogenic mutation.

Interested candidates should contact p.v.coveney@ucl.ac.uk copying p.best@cbkscicon.com and alya.arabi@zu.ac.ae with a degree transcript and a motivation letter expressing interest in this project. Informal inquiries are encouraged. Applicants should have, or be expecting to achieve, a first or upper second class honours degree or equivalent in physics, chemistry or a related subject and must be able to demonstrate significant computational experience including use of high level programming languages (such as Fortran, C/C++, and Python or other scripting methods).

Due to funding restrictions, this studentship is only open to applicants from the UK and EU, who have been resident in the UK for at least 3 years preceding their start on the programme or have indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

Applications will be accepted until 31 January 2019 but the position will be filled as soon as a suitable candidate has been identified.

 

A 4-year EngD Studentship in Multiscale modelling and simulation of graphene and graphene-oxide polymer composites (D/L:31/01/2019)

Co-supervisors: Professor Peter Coveney, Department of Chemistry, UCL
Application deadline: 31 January 2019
Start date: 24 September 2019

The UCL Centre for Doctoral Training in Molecular Modelling and Materials Science is offering a fully funded studentship to a highly motivated candidate to start in September 2019. The studentship will cover tuition fees at UK/EU rate plus a maintenance stipend of £18550 (tax free) per annum for four years.

 

The project will involve a collaboration with Hexcel (http://www.hexcel.com) whose laboratories are in close proximity to UCL. Hexcel will be able to perform a range of performance tests on the same materials as the student will be modelling, thereby providing experimental validation of the theoretical and simulation work. The overarching goal for this work is to assess the accuracy, precision and reliability of such computer-based predictions of the properties of these nanomaterials.  
 

The student will develop and implement the multiscale modelling methodologies required to investigate polymer nanocomposites with particular focus on epoxy – resins. These composite materials are expected to exhibit properties of importance to aerospace industries owing to their anticipated properties (lightweight, strong, durable, as well as being environmentally friendly and sustainable). While the student will need to perform some amount of electronic structure calculations in order to extract certain key parameters (pertaining to charge distributions and dispersion interactions), he or she will employ a combination of modelling methods, primarily focussed at the level of classical molecular dynamics (both all atom and coarse-grained) and its connections to higher levels of modelling in order to make predictions of large scale materials properties. The central theme for the project is to make high fidelity, chemically specific predictions from the nanoscale description of both the mesoscale structure of these composites, and from that to predict emergent macroscopic behaviour and properties.  These predictions will be tested against experimental measurements made by Hexcel specifically for the purpose of validating the student’s modelling results.  
 

Interested candidates should contact p.v.coveney@ucl.ac.uk with a degree transcript and a motivation letter expressing interest in this project. Informal inquiries are encouraged. Applicants should have, or be expecting to achieve, a first or upper second class honours degree or equivalent in physics, chemistry or a related subject and must be able to demonstrate significant computational experience including use of high level programming languages (such as Fortran, C/C++, and Python or other scripting methods).


Due to funding restrictions, this studentship is only open to applicants from the UK and EU who have been resident in the UK for at least 3 years preceding their start on the programme.


Applications will be accepted until 31 January 2019 but the position will be filled as soon as a suitable candidate has been identified.

 

Controllable Growth of Two-Dimensional Molecular Frameworks via Contactless Droplet Manipulation(D/L:31/01/2019)

Application deadline: 31 January 2019
Start date: 24 September 2019

A fully funded PhD studentship is available to work under the co-supervision of Dr Giorgio Volpe and Dr Matthew Blunt on the experimental development of a controllable printing method to deposit and self-assemble 2 dimensional Covalent Organic Frameworks (2D-COFs).

Two-dimensional covalent–organic frameworks (2D-COFs) are materials that have seen increased interest in recent years because of their potential for technological applications including: optical devices, electrocatalysts and sensors. The directionality and alignment of domains over extended areas within 2D-COF thin-films is particularly important as these structural parameters determine the directional electrical conductivity of the material. However, current methods for 2D-COF thin-film growth (e.g. solvothermal synthesis and solid-vapour phase growth) are intrinsically limited by a lack of flexibility and control over the directionality with which molecules are deposited, and then incorporated within a growing 2D-COF layer. The aim of this project is to develop a novel route to the controlled self-assembly of 2D-COF precursor molecules at liquid-liquid and solid-liquid interfaces for the growth of highly aligned 2D-COF layers. For this purpose, we plan to adapt a method that we have recently devised, where controllable deposits of materials in evaporating droplets can be printed onto a surface via contactless manipulation by means of a local source of solvent vapour. The characterization of the self-assembled structures will be performed with a combination of techniques, including optical microscopy, scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS).

Please visit our group website for more details about our research: https://activematterlab.org

The successful applicant should have or expect to achieve a Masters-level degree (1st or 2:1) in a relevant subject, e.g. Physical Chemistry, Physics, Chemical Engineering, Natural Science or Materials Science, and an interest in working at the interface between different disciplines of physical chemistry, including soft matter and self-assembly. The successful applicant will demonstrate strong interest and self-motivation in the subject, good experimental practice and the ability to think analytically and creatively. Good computer skills as well as presentation and writing skills in English are required. Previous experience in experimental soft matter and programming are desirable.

To apply in first instance, please email a motivation letter, an up-to-date CV and contact details for 2 referees to Dr Giorgio Volpe (g.volpe@ucl.ac.uk) and  Dr Matthew Blunt (m.blunt@ucl.ac.uk) who may also be approached for informal enquires. Ideal starting date: September/October 2019. The application deadline is 31 January 2019 but the position will be closed as soon as a suitable applicant has been selected.

Due to funding restrictions, this studentship is only open to applicants from the UK and EU who have been resident in the UK for at least 3 years preceding their start on the programme or have indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

Suitable candidates will be required to complete an electronic application form at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/graduate/apply. Any admissions queries should be directed to Dr Jadranka Butorac (j.butorac@ucl.ac.uk).

 

Using photoelectron spectroscopy and cyclic voltammetry to explore the redox properties of organic molecules in aqueous solution(D/L:31/01/2019)

Application deadline: 31 January 2019
Start date: 24 September 2019

A fully funded (36 month) PhD studentship is available in UCL Chemistry to work on an interdisciplinary project in the groups of Professors Helen Fielding, Katherine Holt and Graham Worth involving liquid microjet photoelectron spectroscopy, cyclic voltammetry and quantum chemistry calculations. The aim of this project is to combine liquid microjet photoelectron spectroscopy measurements of ionization potentials and cyclic voltammetry measurements of the kinetics and reversibility of electron transfer to determine one-electron standard reduction potentials of the ground and electronically excited states of a range of organic molecules in aqueous solution. The measurements will complemented by  computational chemistry calculations. The student will gain experience of working on a multidisciplinary project and gain expertise in state-of-the-art spectroscopy, cyclic voltammetry and computational chemistry.

The applicants should have, or expect to gain, at least a 2.1 honours degree, or equivalent, at Masters level in Chemistry, or a related physical science discipline. The successful applicant will have a strong interest in physical chemistry and have the ability to think analytically and creatively. An enquiring and rigorous approach to research as well as good team-working and communication skills (both presentation and written English) are essential.

UCL offers a world leading scientific environment in the heart of London.

Due to funding restrictions, only UK/EU students who meet the 3 years residency criteria are eligible for this studentship. The start date for the PhD is in late September 2019. The deadline for applications is 31 January 2019, although the position will be filled as soon as an appropriate candidate is found.

Applicants should send their applications (cover letter describing motivation for applying, CV and contact details for 2 referees) by email to Professor Helen Fielding h.h.fielding@ucl.ac.uk, who may also be approached for informal enquiries along with Professors Katherine Holt k.b.holt@ucl.ac.uk or Professor Graham Worth g.a.worth@ucl.ac.uk.

Applicants will also be required to complete an electronic application form at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/graduate/apply. Any admissions queries should be directed to the postgraduate administrator Dr Jadranka Butorac (j.butorac@ucl.ac.uk).

Understanding the electronic properties of self-assembled materials by a combination of theory and experiment(D/L:15/02/2019)

Application deadline: 15 February 2019
Start date: 24 September 2019

A fully funded PhD studentship is available to work under the co-supervision of Dr. Martijn Zwijnenburg and Dr. Rob Palgrave on understanding the electronic properties of self-assembled materials by a combination of theory and experiment.

Perylene bisimides (PBIs) and related molecules, such as naphthalene bisimides, form a fascinating class of compounds. When functionalised with suitable substituents solutions of them can form gels or be dried down to amorphous thin films. The resulting self-assembled materials can act as photoconductors, with very long charge carrier lifetimes, even in the presence of air, as hydrogen evolution photocatalysts, and battery electrolytes, as well as materials that structural respond to electrochemical reduction or illumination. All these properties arise from the interplay between their propensity to self-assemble and their rich redox and photochemistry.

Despite their interesting properties and practical relevance, the electronic properties of the self-assembled materials are not very well understood. The idea is for this studentship to fill this niche by both predicting the electronic properties using theoretical methods (Zwijnenburg group) and to probe them experimentally (Palgrave group). Specifically the student will use density functional and Green’s function based calculations to predict the electronic properties of the materials and x-ray and/or ultraviolet photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS/UPS) to measure them experimentally. By exploring a series of materials, we plan to use our calculations and spectroscopy experiments to extract structure-property relationships. The Adams and Draper groups at the University of Glasgow, with whom we have a long-standing collaboration in this area, will provide samples of different PBI materials for the XPS/UPS experiments.

Please visit our group websites for more details about our research: https://www.zwijnenburg-group.org/ and http://robertpalgrave.co.uk.

The successful applicant should have or expect to achieve a Masters-level degree (1st or 2:1) in a relevant subject, e.g. Chemistry, Physics, Chemical Engineering, Natural Science or Materials Science, and an interest in working at the interface between theoretical and experimental materials chemistry. The successful applicant will demonstrate strong interest and self-motivation in the subject, good experimental practice and the ability to think analytically and creatively. Good computer skills as well as presentation and writing skills in English are required. Previous experience in computational chemistry and/or photoelectron spectroscopy is desirable.

To apply in first instance, please email a motivation letter, an up-to-date CV and contact details for 2 referees to Dr. Martijn Zwijnenburg (m.zwijnenburg@ucl.ac.uk) and Dr. Rob Palgrave (r.palgrave@ucl.ac.uk) who may also be approached for informal enquires. Ideal starting date: September/October 2019. The application deadline is the 15 of February 2019 but the position will be closed as soon as a suitable applicant has been selected.

Due to funding restrictions, this studentship is only open to applicants from the UK and EU who have been resident in the UK for at least 3 years preceding their start on the programme or have indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

Suitable candidates will be required to complete an electronic application form at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/graduate/apply. Any admissions queries should be directed to Dr Jadranka Butorac (j.butorac@ucl.ac.uk).

Efficient calculation of binding fee-energies and druggability in challenging drug targets(D/L:15/02/2019)

Application deadline: 3 June 2019
Start date: 24 September 2019

Supervisors: Professor Francesco Gervasio (UCL) and Dr Ben Cossins (UCB)

This four year PhD research project, due to start in October 2019, is a collaboration between University College London and UCB pharma, a global biopharmaceutical company (www.ucb.com). The doctoral student will be formally based at UCL in the group of Francesco Gervasio but will also have a placement of three months or more at UCB, Slough, UK. The successful candidate will be awarded a doctorate from UCL.

Recent estimates put the development cost of a new medicine at over 2 billion dollars. Of the enormous number of compounds entering the drug discovery pipeline, only a tiny fraction reach the market. Failures in the later (clinical) stages are extremely costly. It is therefore of great importance to identify early on lead compounds that interact with biologically validated target and exert their mechanism without inducing adverse effects (toxicity). In this respect, computational approaches are expected to play an increasing role. Fast docking algorithms can now reliably predict binding modes. But the ranking of compounds based on affinity still requires a more in-depth understanding of the association mechanisms.3 In this respect, fully atomistic molecular dynamics based approaches are increasingly useful. Over the last 10 years, thanks to better protein and ligand force-fields, exponential increase in computer performance and better sampling and free-energy algorithms, these methods made enormous progress and can now accurately predict binding mechanisms, relative BFEs and even absolute BFEs and binding kinetics. However, to obtain absolute free energies and binding kinetics, they require very significant sampling and are still too computationally demanding for most de-novo design projects. For this reason, triaging from a virtual screening is often carried out based on knowledge about the interactions of known active compounds and visual inspection.

FLG’s group contributed to understand binding mechanisms and developed methods for accurate binding free energy calculations. His “coarse Metadynamics” approach inspired the now widely-used “binding pose Metadynamics”scoring method by a software company. Together with UCB, his group has recently thoroughly tested a number of fast free energy estimation approaches (BP Metadynamics, FEP WaterSwap) in a number of relevant biological targets. However, they concluded that, albeit they are fast they are often not able to distinguish active from inactive, so can only have limited impact.  Here we plan to build on our extensive experience in method development and drug discovery and develop a computational platform based on methods such as SWISH and multiple-walker Metadynamics with funnel shaped restraints to quickly achieve the required accuracy for semi-quantitative and quantitative scoring on cheap graphic processing units (GPUs). We are confident that this is achievable based on extensive preliminary data on several targets (including GPCRs). The level of accuracy required should be tuneable: active/inactive (where active is a kd of < 200 µm) for relatively quick screenings and up to ~2kcal/mol or better for hit optimization. The proposed techniques will be experimentally validated by UCB by biophysical (microcalorimetry, SPR) and structural approaches (crystallography).

This project is fully funded by the EPSRC with an additional stipend provided by UCB. To be eligible, applicants must satisfy 3 years UK residency criteria. Please submit a full CV and covering letter to Dr. Ben Cossins (Ben.Cossins@ucb.com) and Prof. Francesco Gervasio (f.l.gervasio@ucl.ac.uk

Guided self-assembly of organic semiconductors for printable electronics (D/L:15/02/2019)

Application deadline: 31 March 2019
Start date: 23 September 2019

Supervisors: Dr Bob Schroeder (UCL) and Dr Giorgio Volpe (UCL)

This fully funded 3 years PhD research project is available at UCL Chemistry.

Solution processable molecular organic semiconductors are prime candidates to realise printable electronics. However a lack of control over molecular orientation and assembly is currently severely limiting their performance. Being able to guide their crystallisation and solid-state packing on a molecular level would therefore be a significant leap forward in optimising p-orbital overlap between adjacent molecules, thereby facilitating intermolecular charge transport. In recent years, major effort has been undertaken to enhance charge transport by trapping organic semiconductors in metastable crystal structures. Proposed methods include spatial confinement, electric-field-assisted crystallisation or fluid-enhanced crystal engineering. While all these approaches were successful in coating large areas, it is challenging to adapt them for controllably patterning organic semiconductors to be used in electronic circuits, organic photovoltaics and organic thermoelectric generators. This project will focus on the synthesis of molecular semiconductors with large, permanent dipoles (Dr Schroeder) and the application of a vapour-guided deposition and self-assembly technique (Dr Volpe) to gain control over material patterning, alignment and resolution. This approach will make it possible for the first time to study the crystallisation dynamics of organic semiconductors under non-equilibrium conditions and to control the molecular alignment using an environmentally benign, contactless method to initiate crystallisation.

Please visit our group websites for more details about our research: Schroeder Group and Volpe Group.

The applicants should have, or expect to gain, at least 2.1 honours or equivalent at Bachelor’s or Master’s level in Chemistry, or a related discipline. The successful applicant will demonstrate strong interest and self-motivation in the subject and the ability to think analytically and creatively. An enquiring and rigorous approach to research as well as excellent team-working, observational and communication skills (both presentation and writing skills in English) are also essential. Previous research experience in contributing to a collaborative interdisciplinary research environment would be highly desirable but not essential, as training will be provided. UCL offers a world-leading scientific environment in the heart of London.

Due to funding restrictions, only UK/EU students who meet the 3 years residency criteria are eligible for this studentship. The start date for the PhD is the 23rd September 2019. The deadline for applications is 31st March 2018, with interviews to be held in late April/early June, but the position will be filled as soon as an appropriate candidate is found.

Applicants should send their applications (motivation letter, CV and contact info for 2 referees) by email to Dr Schroeder (b.c.schroeder@ucl.ac.uk) and Dr Volpe (g.volpe@ucl.ac.uk), who may also be approached for informal enquiries.

Suitable candidates will be required to complete an electronic application form at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/graduate/apply. Any admissions queries should be directed to Dr Jadranka Butorac (j.butorac@ucl.ac.uk).