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Brillouin microscopy to study cell biomechanics based at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Tuesday, November 12, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

AIBN is a dynamic multi-disciplinary research institute dedicated to developing technology to alleviate societal problems in the areas of health, energy, manufacturing and environmental sustainability. AIBN brings together the skills of more than 450 world-class researchers complimented by an extensive suite of integrated facilities, working at the intersection of biology, chemistry, engineering and computer modelling. With a reputation for delivering translational science, AIBN conducts research at the forefront of emerging technologies, and has developed strong collaborations with leading members of industry, academia and government. AIBN goes beyond basic research to develop the growth of innovative industries for the benefit of the Queensland and Australian economies. Information about the Institute can be accessed on the Institute’s web site at

Our people are our greatest asset. We offer collaborative, inclusive work and study places, which are enriched by the significant diversity of our staff, students and community. We genuinely believe that creativity and innovation flourishes in an environment where people feel supported, valued and empowered. Mutual respect, inclusivity and accountability are at the cornerstone of UQ’s culture.

AIBN is committed to supporting the career growth of women researchers and have a number of initiatives to support women in developing and achieving a fulfilling research career at the institute. For more information, please visit our AIBN Women in Science web site at


This project develops new microscope technology and uses it to study cell biomechanics. In particular, we are interested in the way that the extracellular matrix stiffness regulates cell function and growth. There project will address the current need for technology to measure stiffness with high resolution in 3D. Spatial patterns in stiffness are have been shown to guide cell growth and mobility for cells cultured on 2D surfaces, but it is well established that results from 2D surfaces cannot be reliably extrapolated to cells growing in the natural 3D environment.

To address this problem we are working with Brillouin microscopy, which is an emerging technology that utilizes light-sound scattering to characterize 3D material stiffness with diffraction limited resolution without requiring physical access, allowing characterization in otherwise inaccessible regions including the interior of cells or within the lens of eyes. However the signal size is very small as light-sound scattering is a weak process, which leads to poor sensitivity that necessitates very long acquisition times, making Brillouin microscopy difficult to apply in most experiments. We have recently developed a new method to measure the small signal with improved sensitivity in order to improve the speed and precision.


We are looking for a highly motivated student to further develop the Brillouin microscopy technology and translate it into biomechanics research. Specifically, this project involves

Setting up optical systems

Programming hardware control software to automate operation
Develop signal processing to extract useful parameters from the noisy data
Theoretically relating the measured mechanical properties of hydrogels to the underlying structure
Experimentally validate the system with controlled hydrogels

Use the microscope to characterize stiffness variations within and around cells in 3D matrix
This is an interdisciplinary research project and the successful applicants should be prepared to work across disciplines with people from different backgrounds. The project is led primarily by Dr Michael Taylor and in collaboration with Prof. Alan Rowan. Dr Taylor is an optical physicist and be involved in the day to day experiments. The successful applicant will take a hands-on role in both the technology development and then translating the technique into biomechanical experiments.

Students will be supported to present their outcomes at meetings and conferences to enhance their knowledge, receive wider feedback and network in the fields of optics and biomechanics. This innovative project which develops novel techniques for biomechanical imaging is in an emerging area of research, and is expected to generate high impact publications.

The person

Expressions of interest are invited from outstanding and enthusiastic Australian and international graduates with a First-Class Honours, or equivalent qualifications through a relevant Masters degree. Candidates will have a background in physics or engineering. Some programming experience is required. Experience and interest in the following areas is an advantage: optics, instrument design, programming hardware control software, use of LabVIEW, signal processing, finite element modelling, and biomechanics.

Applicants must fulfil the PhD admission criteria for the University of Queensland, including English language requirements, and demonstrate excellent capacity and potential for research. Demonstration of research ability through publication output in peer reviewed international journals is desirable.

For further information on the Basis of Admission to a UQ research higher degree, please visit Successful applicants must accept and commence within 6 months of receiving an award.


Prospective students will be provided with assistance to apply for a scholarship. Domestic students will be expected to apply for an APA or equivalent scholarship, while international students will be expected to apply for UQ scholarships for international students for stipend and tuition support.

The 2019 Research Training Program (RTP) living allowance stipend rate is AUD$27,596 per annum (indexed annually), which is tax-free for three years with two possible extensions of up to 6 months each in approved circumstances (conditions apply). For further information on this scholarship refer to:


Applicants should contact Dr Michael Taylor () to discuss the project and their interest in it. All applicants should supply the following documents:

Cover letter that addresses how you meet the requirements for participation in the project
Detailed academic CV with a focus on past research and laboratory skills and details of two referees
Complete tertiary academic records (with grades/GPA scores, and official grading scale details)


To discuss this role further please contact Dr Michael Taylor () or Professor Alan Rowan ().

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