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Nanoscale imaging of membrane pore formation in bacterial attack and immune defence

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Pore forming proteins are crucial armaments in the battle between organisms and their pathogens. Secreted as monomers in solution, these proteins self-assemble into oligomeric structures that punch holes into membranes. In Prof. Bart Hoogenboom’s biophysics lab ( at the London Centre for Nanotechnology, we have made important contributions to understanding this process for various proteins [1-5] and have recently demonstrated the importance of membrane physics for the efficacy of important pore forming proteins in the immune system: immune cells can be protected from the proteins they secrete to kill cancer cells, based on the order and charge of their membranes [1,2].

With atomic force microscopy (AFM) as a key tool, this project aims to investigate how these and other physical membrane properties affect assembly and membrane insertion of pore forming proteins such as bacterial toxins and bactericidal immune proteins. To understand the underlying biophysics, the student will make extensive use of model membranes with well-defined physical properties and characterise the membranes and membrane pore formation by nanoscale and single-molecule characterisation techniques.

STUDENT PROFILE: Applicants should have or be expecting to achieve a first or upper-second class honours degree (or equivalent) in physical sciences or biology. We are looking for candidates who are outstanding in their past experience in carrying out experimentally intricate research projects and in their academic performance in undergraduate and/or master level studies.

APPLICATION PROCEDURE: To apply, candidates are requested to follow the application procedure on and to send a PDF copy of their application to Prof. Bart Hoogenboom (), who will also welcome informal inquiries on this project. Applications will be considered shortly after receipt of the above-mentioned PDF copy; with early applications strongly encouraged.

Funding Notes

We have access to studentships that will cover tuition fees at the UK/EU rate plus a maintenance stipend for four years (standard maintenance stipend for the academic year 2019/2020 is £17009), for UK students and for EU students who have lived in the UK for 3 years before starting the PhD. Applications from other candidates can only be considered if they are self-funded.


[1] Leung et al., Nature Nanotechnology 2017
[2] Rudd-Schmidt et al., Nature Communications 2019
[3] Leung et al., eLife 2014
[4] Pang et al., Nature Communications 2019
[5] Parsons et al., Nature Communications 2019

How good is research at University College London in Physics?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 110.53

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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