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Experimental Biophysics & Nanotechnology

PhD Studentships

The Department of Physics provides PhD studentship funding for exceptional candidates in all research areas relevant to the Experimental Biophysics and Nanotechnology Group. These include
    • Functional nanoparticles and nanostructures
    • Cell and single molecule biophysics
    • Bio-nanophotonics
    • Nano- and bio-imaging
    • Nanophotonics and plasmonics

Targeted Projects: 

Chaperone-mediated mechanical protein folding

Supervisor: Prof. Sergi Garcia-Manyes

The functional state of a protein is intrinsically linked to its structural conformation; typically a fully folded protein resides in an active state whereas a misfolded structure leads to a protein void of function with potentially disastrous repercussions in both cellular homeostasis and disease. The cell has an ingenious system of molecular chaperones that not only prevents protein misfolding, but also promotes the procurement of the native state. Despite the fundamental importance of this process, the precise mechanisms by which chaperones recognise misfolded proteins and eventually lead to efficient folding remains largely elusive. In order to gain insight into this molecular interplay we need tools capable of capturing the dynamic interaction of individual chaperones as the protein conformationally evolves into the native, folded state. In particular, we are interested in understanding the structural intricacies definining the dynamic molecular binding between the chaperone and its substrates in the last stages of folding. This PhD project aims at using a cohort of single molecule mechanics approaches (atomic force microscopy and magnetic tweezers) in order to understand the molecular mechanisms that govern chaperone mediated protein folding.

Mechanobiology at the single cell level

Supervisor: Prof. Sergi Garcia-Manyes

Cells are subjected to different type of forces such as compression and tension, which are mainly induced by extracellular matrix, neighbouring cells and fluid flow. These mechanical stimuli are able to trigger activation of genes involved in differentiation, migration and proliferation. Recently the nucleus has been described as a possible mechanosensor, but the molecular mechanisms whereby mechanical signals result in gene expression are far to be completely understood. Using a combination of cutting edge techniques such as large-scanning AFM and magnetic tweezers, both coupled with a fluorescence microscopy, we aim at investigating the effect of compressing and stretching forces on the rate of nuclear shuttling of an array of mechanically activated transcription factors, including myocardin-related transcription factor (MRTF-A) or YAP. Overall this project would help us understand the contribution of tension and compression forces on activation of gene transcription.

Spin-orbit interactions of light and optical forces for new nanophotonic technologies

Supervisor: Dr. Francisco Rodriguez-Fortuno


This project is fully funded by the European Research Council, covering tuition fees, stipend, necessary equipment, and all other costs related to the research such as travel costs for conferences and paper publication charges. The PhD position will be part of the European Research Council Starting Grant project PSINFONI "Particle-surface interactions in near field optics: spin-orbit effects of light and optical/casimir forces" supervised by Dr. Francisco Rodriguez-Fortuno.


Photonics, the science of light generation, detection and manipulation, is one of the key enabling technologies of this century. Applications of photonics are ubiquitous in very diverse areas such as information and communication technologies (ICT), healthcare, sensing and security among many others.


Nanophotonics is the science that studies photonics at the nanoscale, and opens completely new applications for photonics using modern nanotechnology. While modern microelectronics (the technology of current computers, smarthphones, etc.) is reaching fundamental bandwidth limitations in computing, processing of information, signal routing and switching, nanophotonics promises to be an ideal platform for all-optical computing and integrated optical interconnects, with a boost in bandwidth and a greatly reduced power consumption, capable of revolutionizing nanotechnology in a way similar to how photonic fibre optics revolutionized long-distance communications. Alongside this, other applications in healthcare, sensing and security are expected to be enabled by nanophotonics, with the possibility of lab-on-a-chip real-time medical diagnosis and integrated sensing of chemical or biological products in affordable, sensitive, reliable and ultra-compact devices, among many other applications.


To achieve all this, nanophotonics still needs efficient methods for ultrafast manipulation of light in integrated platforms. Spin-orbit interactions (SOI) of light could provide a fundamental solution to this challenge. Emerging from Maxwell’s equations, SOI effects link spatial degrees of freedom of light (spatial dependence of the wave intensity and phase, which determine wave-vector and light propagation) with polarization degrees of freedom [see our review Nature Photonics, 9, 796 (2015)]. In essence, they describe how the polarization of light affects its own trajectory. SOI effects are always present and must be taken into account in modern nanophotonics, but most importantly, they can be intentionally engineered to achieve completely novel functionality.


This project will focus on exploring recent striking SOI effects, related to light directionality exhibited by circularly polarized emitters. It was described by us on [Science 340, 328 (2013)], with a later direct experimental demonstration using light illumination of a particle near a surface. We demonstrated high contrast polarization-dependent switching of electromagnetic mode propagation direction, with broadband behaviour, based on very fundamental concepts valid on any electromagnetic platform. This fascinating result has inspired a strong interest by the scientific community.


Controlling directionality exclusively with light polarization allows ultra-high speed modulation and switching, opening new avenues for light nano-routing in a variety of platforms. In addition to nanorouting, SOI effects offer a promising solution to a fundamental challenge in quantum optics: the readout of quantum polarization-coded solid-state qubits. Also the reciprocal effect enables arbitrary polarization synthesis at ultra-high modulation speed [Laser Photon. Rev. 8, L27–L31 (2014)], radiated from single nanoantennas in an integrated platform, with applications for integrated nano-ellipsometers, spin-coded information transmission and processing, and novel magnetic storage applications based on circular polarization laser illumination.


The project will explore SOI effects of light appearing in particle-surface interactions. i.e. when light interacts with nanoparticles near a planar surface. This geometry allows the existance of exotic optical forces controllable with polarization based on SOI [Nat. Commun. 6, 8799 (2015)]. In addition, the engineering of the surface using metamaterials or metasurfaces can enable the possibility of optical levitation of particles near a surface [Light Sci. Appl. 5, e16022 (2016)].
The project will initially explore these effects theoretically, and will also aim at proof-of-concept experimental demonstrations. During the project the student will collaborate in the development of fast semi-analytical methods to solve Maxwell’s equation in specific SOI geometries, and use these powerful tools to obtain new insight into SOI of light phenomena, design proof-of-principle experiments that we can carry out in the laboratory, and study the feasibility of applying the results to real world applications, such as those described above. 


Applicants must hold, or expect to receive, a first or upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in Physics, Electric/Electrical Engineering or a related subject, with a strong understanding and interest in the fundamentals of electromagnetism and nanophotonics. This project combines theoretical and experimental aspects, so it is required that the student should have good mathematical background, knowledge in basic programming skills, and ideally previous laboratory experience. The main tools to be used in the theory part will be commercial electromagnetic simulators and self developed codes in Matlab. In the experimental part we will be using optical microscopy and spectroscopy.


In the Department of Physics at King’s College London we are very well placed to offer a stimulating environment for this project. We have excellent, state-of-the-art lab facilities and all the necessary equipment. The student will be embedded in a large group of PhD students and post-doctoral researchers with a diverse, international background in Central London. Furthermore, the College offers a huge range of seminars and transferrable-skills courses that can provide a competitive edge in today’s job market. 


You can apply directly via the King’s College London online application system (see below under "Apply now!"). When filling up the research proposal, do not write a lengthy text, simply indicate the supervisor name Dr. Francisco Rodriguez-Fortuno and the title of the project. Preferably also contact and send your CV to francisco.rodriguez_fortuno@kcl.ac.uk so that we can follow your application closely. The starting-date is 1st October 2017, with some flexibility for earlier or later starting dates.

Reactive Plasmonics

Postential Supervisors: Professor Anatoly Zayats, Dr Wayne Dickson, Professor David Richard & Dr Riccardo Sapienza.

The applications are invited from exceptional candidates to work on the EPSRC funded research programme Reactive Plasmonics: Optical control of electronic processes at Interfaces for nanoscale physics, chemistry and metrology 

Two studentships are available for 3.5 years and cover tuition fees and stipend. The funding is available for the applicants with UK citizenship or those who studied in the UK at least 3 years immediately prior to applying.

The experimental research projects involve fabrication and optical characterisation of advanced plasmonic nanostructures and their applications in opto-electronics and nanophotonics. In addition to exciting science, the project will require travelling to collaborating laboratories at Imperial College London and interactions with industrial partners.

For further information please visit the project webpage and for details contact Professor Anatoly Zayats

Broadband Spectral Interferometric Polarized Coherent Anti-Stokes Raman Scattering – a non-linear optical approach to fast all-optical chemical fingerprinting

Supervisor: Professor David Richards

Coherent Anti-Stokes Raman Scattering (CARS) is a third order non-linear optical process where three input fields coherently generate a fourth. The amplitude and phase of the generated field depends on molecular vibrational resonances, so the technique can give information on what chemical species are present in a given sample. In recent years this has found increasing application in biological microscopy, allowing images to be taken using the endogenous (i.e. label-free) vibrational contrast. We have recently developed a new implementation of CARS which delivers in a passive all- optical manner the same powerful chemical signature provided by conventional Raman spectroscopy, but orders of magnitude faster, making it possible to explore a wide range of systems in much greater spatial and temporal detail. In Spectral Interferometric Polarized Coherent Anti-Stokes Raman Scattering (SIP-CARS), signals are free of the non-resonant background signal which has traditionally plagued CARS, while still providing the signal amplification and inherent optical sectioning of multi-photon coherent Raman techniques.

This project is concerned with deriving a full understanding of the underlying physics of the SIP-CARS technique, allowing significant further enhancement of its capability. Experimental measurements will be complemented by theoretical and computational analysis of the optical four-wave mixing process within the focal volume. Computational approaches for the recovery of resonant response from CARS spectra will also be applied, to enable a detailed comparison with SIP-CARS and analysis of different contributions to the CARS signal. In SIP-CARS the real signal components (including the non-resonant background signal) cancel in a balanced homodyne detection scheme, leaving only the imaginary resonant components; the project will also explore opportunities for additional signal amplification, and involve the study of noise and its impact on hyperspectral cluster analysis, and the study of processes that break the symmetry of the balanced detection scheme (such as in polarisation-dependent media), mixing a portion of the real components into the spectrum.

This project offers the opportunity to bring together experiment with theoretical and computational analysis, and to develop skills in the development and trouble-shooting of a complex ultrafast optical experimental system. The successful candidate should be a problem-solver with a good understanding of optical physics, and strong experimental, theoretical and programming skills.

For further details contact Professor David Richards (david.r.richards@kcl.ac.uk).

Prospective applicants are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.

To submit your application, please follow the instructions given in:
www.kcl.ac.uk/nms/depts/physics/study/PhdResearchDegrees/How-to-apply.aspx

Quantitative broadband coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering (CARS) imaging for the study of in vivo lipid metabolism in the nematode C.elegans

Supervisors: David Richards, Department of Physics
Stephen Sturzenbaum, Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine

Coherent Anti-Stokes Raman Scattering (CARS) is a third order non-linear optical process where three input fields coherently generate a fourth. The amplitude and phase of the generated field depends on molecular vibrational resonances, so the technique can give information on what chemical species are present in a given sample. In recent years this has found increasing application in biological microscopy, allowing images to be taken using the endogenous (i.e. label-free) vibrational contrast. We have recently developed a new implementation of CARS which delivers in a passive all- optical manner the same powerful chemical signature provided by conventional Raman spectroscopy, but orders of magnitude faster, making it possible to explore a wide range of systems in much greater spatial and temporal detail. In Spectral Interferometric Polarized Coherent Anti-Stokes Raman Scattering (SIP-CARS), signals are free of the non-resonant background signal which has traditionally plagued CARS, while still providing the signal amplification and inherent optical sectioning of multiphoton coherent Raman techniques.

The development and application of SIP-CARS, has facilitated the 2- and 3-dimensional in vivo imaging of the microscopic model nematode (Caenorhabditis elegans). In “proof of principle” experiments, this technique has not only enabled the identification of differences in lipid saturation distributions in C. elegans but demonstrated that the technique is sufficiently sensitive to detect the effects of lipid metabolism altering drugs on C. elegans. This project will further optimize the application of SIP-CARS to define the modified fat status in stains harbouring mutations in genes known to be implicated in fat metabolism (e.g. fat-5, daf-2, sbp-1 etc.) as well as novel targets identified in our laboratory by means of global transcriptomics (e.g. F19H6.6, B034832, C40A11.8 etc.). Given that mutants are not available for the novel targets, gene knockdowns (rather than knockouts) will be generated via RNA interference (RNAi). Taken together, the application of SIP-CARS within the context of an established model organism will allow us to pinpoint evolutionary conserved genes which are instrumental in obesity and diseases linked to impaired fat metabolism.

The PhD student will be fully integrated into both the Experimental Biophysics & Nanotechnology Research Group of the Department of Physics, and the Toxicogenomics Research Group within the Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine at King’s. The successful candidate should have a good understanding of optical physics, strong experimental and programming skills, and a desire to cross disciplines and develop new skills in biological science.

For further details contact Professor David Richards (david.r.richards@kcl.ac.uk).

Prospective applicants are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.

To submit your application, please follow the instructions given in:
www.kcl.ac.uk/nms/depts/physics/study/PhdResearchDegrees/How-to-apply.aspx

 

 Apply now !

  Further details of potential supervisors and research areas available:

 

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