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PBG Alumni

Dr Sylvia McLain

McLain,Sylvia140x180Research Fellow
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Department of Biochemistry
University of Oxford
South Parks Road
Oxford OX1 3QU



About Dr McLain

Sylvia McLain received her Bachelor's degree in Zoology from the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) in 1994. After four years as a genetics technician in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department (University of Tennessee) in the laboratory of Prof. G.F. McCracken, she returned to the University of Tennessee and received her Master's degree in Science Education in 1999 and her PhD in Chemistry in 2004. After serving as an US-National Science Foundation International Postdoctoral fellow at the ISIS Facility, Sylvia was awarded a Clifford G. Shull Fellowship at Oak Ridge National Lab (USA) in 2007, then was appointed as a Wellcome Trust Fellow at King's College London in 2009. She is now an EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellow in the Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford. Sylvia will be focussing on "Structural studies of atomic interactions in membranes: bridging the gap between physics and membrane biology"

Sylvia investigates the interaction between small biological molecules and how they associate with each other and are hydrated in water. Understanding this association provides an improved understanding of the link between the atomic structure of small bio-molecules in solution and the self-assembly of larger functionally active biological molecules – such as proteins and membranes.

This also has implications for understanding the structure of drugs under physiological conditions as well as providing important information to support the their successful delivery. Using a combination of techniques - neutron diffraction enhanced by isotopic substitution on solutions, small angle neutron scattering, coupled with computer simulations and NMR - the structure of these molecules in the media where biological processes occur can be determined.

This research involves the regular use of the neutron instruments at the ISIS pulsed neutron and muon source ( in conjunction with Empirical Potential Structure Refinement techniques (


  • McLain, S. E., Soper, A.K., Diadone, I., Smith, J. C. and Watts, A. (2008) 'Charge based interactions between peptides observed as the dominant force for clustering in solution' Angewandte Chemie Int. Ed., 47, 9059-9062
  • Pagnotta, S. E. , Ricci, M. A., Bruni F., McLain, S. E. and Magazú, S.(2008) 'Water structure around trehalose' Chemical Physics, 345, 159-163
  • McLain, S. E., Soper, A. K. and Watts, A.(2008) 'Water structure around peptide fragments in aqueous solutions' European Biophysical Journal, 37, 647-655
  • McLain, S. E., Soper, A. K., Terry, A. E. and Watts, A. (2007) 'Structure and hydration of L-proline in aqueous solutions' Journal of Physical Chemistry B, 111, 4568-4580
  • McLain, S. E., Soper, A. K. and Watts, A. (2006) 'Structural studies on the hydration of L-glutamic acid in solution' Journal Physical Chemistry B, 110, 21251-21258
  • Hulme, E. C., Soper, A. K., McLain S. E. and Finney, J. L. (2006) 'The hydration of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in aqueous solution' Biophysical Journal, 91, 2371-2380

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