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  Developing next generation sunscreens by learning from nature

   School of Chemistry

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  Prof Vas Stavros  Applications accepted all year round  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

About the project:

Due to the potentially damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure to humans, solar protection is required. This can be achieved by avoiding the sun at peak times, seeking shade, and wearing clothing. However, these precautions are often not preferred due to the popularity of exercising and relaxing in the sun and the sociocultural trend of tanning. Whilst tanning is the body’s natural defence mechanism against UVR, specifically the production of the pigment eumelanin, this is a delayed response which takes around 3-5 days after UVR exposure. Immediate protection can be achieved through the use of commercial sunscreens; the key ingredients for UVR protection in sunscreens are UV-filters.

There are currently a limited set of health-organisation-approved UV-filters including both inorganic particulate filters and organic filters. Of these UV-filters, in particular the organic filters, there are several drawbacks which provides the motivation for this PhD research (see below). The drawbacks include photoinstability, damaging environmental effects and human health concerns. Natural UV-filters offer a viable alternative to the current UV-filters on the market. Specifically, UV-filters that exist in plants and macro- and microorganisms for their solar photoprotection.

Over the past five or so years, our group has been applying state-of-the-art spectroscopic techniques, notably ultrafast spectroscopy, to unravel how these natural UV-filters deal with UVR. By tracking the energy flow within these UV-filters following their absorption of UVR, one is able to build molecular movies of energy dissipation in real time and use this insight to understand why these molecules are prolific in dealing with potentially toxic UVR. For example, we have recently used this ‘structure-dynamics-function’ insight to propose a new class of molecules for UV-filters [1,2]. There are many other functionalities that may offer matched (or better) photoprotection which need to be explored using the aforementioned techniques. This forms the main aspect of the proposed PhD program of research.

The candidate:

Candidates should be creative, curious, and motivated, with an interest in lasers, spectroscopy, physical chemistry, and biophysics. By the start of their appointment, applicants should have obtained a strong UG degree in Chemistry (or equivalent) and not be in possession of a PhD.

The selected candidate will be supervised, supported, and mentored by Prof. Vas Stavros at the University of Birmingham. They will join Vas’s dynamic and friendly research group in the School of Chemistry. Please do not hesitate to contact Vas for more information at [Email Address Removed].

Chemistry (6) Physics (29)

Funding Notes

This studentship is fully funded with a stipend and tuition fees paid to UK level. Please contact Prof. Stavros for further details.


[1] A perspective on femtosecond pump-probe spectroscopy in the development of future sunscreens, A.L. Whittock, T.T. Abiola and V.G. Stavros, J. Phys. Chem. A, 126 (2022) 2299.
[2] Unravelling the photoprotective mechanisms of nature-inspired ultraviolet filters using ultrafast spectroscopy, T.T. Abiola, A.L. Whittock and V.G. Stavros, Molecules, 25 (2020) 3945.

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