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Correlative microscopy for studying graphene-based materials in biological environment


Project Description

The development of nanomaterials for biomedical applications has the potential to provide new solutions to so-far unsolved clinical need. Among graphene based materials, graphene oxide (GO) is a particularly interesting 2D material for biomedicine because of its dispersibility in aqueous environments and its ability to be controllably functionalised to create GO-based materials (GOBMs) with chemically distinct markers. Before considering the translation of GOBMs as drug-delivery vectors to the pharmaceutical industry, it is however of critical importance to understand the fate and toxicological limitations of GOBMs in living systems. This requires visualising and locating individualised GOBMs at the ultrastructural level (high magnification within a mammalian cell or in between cells), which is very challenging using current characterisation techniques, such as conventional TEM or optical microscopies without attaching an imaging tag to GOBM basal plan.

This project will primarily employ (scanning) transmission electron microscopy ((S)TEM) imaging and spectroscopy techniques, such as X-ray energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS) and electron energy loss spectroscopy (EELS), in combination with confocal Raman spectroscopy imaging and confocal laser scanning microscopy for correlative purpose. Additional opportunities are available within the University to integrate other imaging and spectroscopic techniques. The candidate will have access to state-of-the-art TEM instrumentations available in the School of Materials and at the SuperSTEM laboratory (UK National facility) to develop unique correlative microscopy workflow. Combining these novel experiments with sophisticated data analysis will lead to a clearer understanding of the interactions of GOBMs with the cellular milieu and their fate at the ultrastructural level, which have been up to now very challenging to investigate.

Along an extensive training in EM imaging and spectroscopic techniques, the first goal of this project will hence be to develop a methodology (imaging and automated image analysis) allowing reliable and robust characterisation of GOBMs at the ultrastructural level in biological samples of increasing complexity, building on preliminary data generated in our labs. These methodological developments being driven by biomedical studies, the candidate will collaborate closely with researchers from the Blanford’s group to produce chemically-functionalised GOBMs, and from the Nanomedicine Lab

NanoInflammation Team to prepare samples for imaging.

During this PhD, the candidate will have the opportunity to develop experimental skills and knowledge on graphene-based materials and on a range of characterisation techniques (electron microscopies, Raman spectroscopy, correlative workflow, etc.). This project will require advanced data analysis and modelling of TEM imaging and spectroscopy, done independently or in collaboration with experts. There is also the opportunity to develop computer programming skills through Python and its rich eco-system of scientific libraries. All these transferable skills and knowledge will prepare the candidate for a wide range of career opportunities.

Funding Notes

The proposed start date for this PhD is 1st October 2019, duration 3.5 years long. This project is also open to self funded students (world wide). Applicants should have or expect to achieve at least a 2.1 honours degree or equivalent in Physics or Materials Science. Funding covers tuition fees and annual maintenance payments of at least the Research Council minimum (£14,777 for academic year 2019/20) for eligible UK and EU applicants. EU nationals must have lived in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the programme to be eligible for a full award (fees and stipend).

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