PhD Studentship in Chemical reaction to mechanical motion: Towards a physio-chemical model of heart cells.

University of Reading - School of Biological Sciences & School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences

Supervisors:  Dr Yoshikatsu Hayashi, Dr Zuowei Wang, and Dr Nandini Vasudevan

Living systems are complex, and are based on the basic building blocks of genes, proteins, chemical reactions, and physical forces. Yet, out of this complexity, with remarkable robustness and precision, cells orchestrate the cooperative action of thousands of specific molecular reactions and interactions to carry out mechanical tasks requiring a much higher-order of organisation. Examples of such tasks include cell motility, cell division and DNA replication. For example, 100 billion heart cells can synchronise their oscillation to generate a single pulse.

To understand the fundamental principles that govern cooperative processes in living systems, it is of critical importance to develop an understanding of the underlying physio-chemical processes, because living systems are also subject to laws in physical systems. Such inherently non-equilibrium processes suggest approaches for developing biomimetic active materials which can transform chemical energy to mechanical energy.  Being actively driven, these materials can exhibit properties such as autonomous motility and self-organised beating.

Recently, novel self-oscillating polymers and gels have been developed that successfully utilise the oscillating reaction, called the Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) reaction. In the presence of the reactants, the polymer undergoes spontaneous cyclic swelling-deswelling changes.

The aim of this project is to understand the fundamental microscopic mechanism of the transformation from chemical to mechanical reactions, and develop a physio-chemical model to study the mechanism of the synchronisation in relevant biological systems.

We will combine the following three approaches;

  • Perform physical chemical experiments with BZ gel beads immersed in an electrolyte solution, and characterize the amplitude and frequency of the BZ gel beads.
  • Develop a hybrid molecular dynamics/Monte Carlo (MD/MC) simulation method to understand the microscopic mechanisms of the interplay between osmotic pressure and dynamical behavior of BZ gels.
  • Develop the physio-chemical model of relevant biological systems, using the obtained microscopic understanding from 1) and 2).

Such chemo-mechanical systems to convert chemical oscillation of the BZ reaction to mechanical changes in polymers and gels can lead to further development of smart biomimetic gels for drug transportation and mechanical assistance purposes by realising an energy conversion to produce a controlled oscillation.

Expected skills:

Good experimental skills in Physical Chemistry/Chemistry/Biology, and preferably but not necessarily some computer programming/simulation skills.

Eligibility: 

  • Applicants should hold or expect to gain a minimum of a 2:1 Bachelor Degree or equivalent in Physical Chemistry, Biomedical Engineering, and Statistical Physics or any other relevant fields.
  • Due to restrictions on this funding, this studentship is for UK/EU applicants only

Funding Details:   

  • Starts 1st of September 2018
  • 3 year award
  • Home/EU Tuition Fees + RCUK Minimum Stipend (£14,553/year) + £1000 Training/Conferences per annum.

How to apply:   

To apply for this studentship please submit an application for a PhD in Biomedical Engineering at http://www.reading.ac.uk/graduateschool/prospectivestudents/gs-how-to-apply.aspx

*Important notes*

  • 1) Please quote the reference ‘GS18-021’ in the ‘Scholarships applied for’ box which appears within the Funding Section of your on-line application.
  • 2) When you are prompted to upload a research proposal, please omit this step.

Application Deadline:  31st May, 2018 or until the position is filled.

Further Enquiries:  Contact Dr. Yoshikatsu Hayashi (y.hayashi@reading.ac.uk)

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Type / Role:

PhD

Location(s):

South East England