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Creating hair-protein materials via a self-assembly mesophase approach


   Biomolecular Interaction Centre

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  Assoc Prof Volker Nock, Dr Duane Harland  Applications accepted all year round  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This is your chance to work with world-leading fibre scientists from AgResearch and bio-based material engineers from the University of Canterbury’s Biomolecular Interaction Centre through a Wool Industry Charitable Trust PhD Scholarship where you will have a unique opportunity to enhance your skill set.

This biomimetic study uses hair/wool as a model for understanding and creating functional bio-based materials. The scope is to investigate the self-assembly of alpha-keratin microstructure by an in-vitro abstraction of specific molecular sub-components and processes from wool follicles.

The doctoral research project will focus on the purification and subsequent assembly of keratins into supramolecular nano- and micro- structures. This is based on previous molecular work on how keratin molecules, dimer and tetramers are arranged within intermediate filaments, and by previous structural work on how bundles of filaments called macrofibrils are organised and vary in internal architecture. Less well understood is the process by which macrofibrils form. It is a process by which different keratin species and associated proteins interact, polymerize, and scale up to create emergent structure at the micrometre scale. In nature these structures further develop a stabilizing network of disulfide bonds and dry from an ordered gel into a resilient solid. The aim of the doctoral project is to replicate key elements of this natural process in the laboratory.

The research will utilise AgResearch and University of Canterbury’s strong capabilities with electron microscopy, proteomics and protein chemistry, multiphase microfluidics, imaging, and image analysis, and will deal with challenges such as correlative measurements from biological samples and challenging protein chemistry experiments

You will use protein separation methods, imaging (e.g., light microscopy, electron microscopy) and microanalysis (e.g., infrared spectroscopy) to carry out experiments to investigate protein assembly and mesophase structures. For this, you will also get the opportunity to explore the use of microfluidics to replicate key interaction processes. During your research period you will need to design and complete a PhD plan, carry out successful experiments, generate, analyse and interpret data, publish scientific findings and write and submit a thesis.

If English is not your first language, you must have passed English exams with scores that meet the requirements for postgraduate study in New Zealand, for example, an IELTS score of at least 6.0 overall.

The scholarship includes an annual tax-free stipend of NZ$39,000 p.a. (paid in monthly installments) plus tuition fees, for three years and travel to present at a conference. The research may be conducted partly at the AgResearch laboratories in Lincoln, and partly at the University of Canterbury.

 Your ideal background

  • Relevant MSc or BSc Hons qualification - e.g., in biophysics, protein chemistry, biological or biomedical sciences.
  • Experience in one or more technical areas of advanced microscopy (TEM, AFM etc.) or microanalysis (e.g., ATR-IR, mass-spectrometry)
  • Knowledge of microscopy methods and microfluidics
  • Meticulous record keeping skills
  • A strong academic record
  • Willingness to learn and up-skill
  • Good communication and networking ability, and willingness to travel

How to apply

If this sounds like you, email a covering letter detailing why you feel you would be suitable for this scholarship, your CV and official transcript to Volker Nock or Duane Harland.


Funding Notes

The scholarship includes an annual tax-free stipend of NZ$39,000 p.a. (paid in monthly installments) plus tuition fees, for three years and travel to present at a conference.
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