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Phase Separation in Cells

Department of Bioengineering

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Dr C F Lee No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

The physical phenomenon of phase separation has recent been revealed to be one of the most important organisational principles of the cell interior. However, the highly non-equilibrium nature of the environment (e.g., the presence of many ATP-hydrolysis-driven processes) renders the standard equilibrium theory obsolete. At the same time, a comprehensive theory of phase separation in the non-equilibrium regime is still lacking. In this PhD project, we aim to fill this knowledge gap by formulating a theoretical framework of non-equilibrium phase separation that is of direct relevance to biological processes. We will do so by using state-of-the-art simulation techniques and advanced analytical theories that build upon the extensive expertise in the Lee group ( on this topic [1]–[7].

Research in the Lee group expands the horizons of physics and biology by studying biological problems that require the development of novel physics. We enjoy close collaborations with biologists (Department of Life Sciences) and bioengineers (Department of Bioengineering) at Imperial College, and biologists (Dunn School of Pathology) at the University of Oxford.

We seek a highly motivated applicant who has obtained, or is about to obtain, an Honours Degree at 2.1 (or equivalent) or higher in physics, mathematics, or a closely related discipline. The successful applicant will perform both numerical simulations and analytical calculations. Imperial College has a vibrant biological physics community and meets weekly at journal clubs and seminars during term time ( The successful candidate will also have opportunities to engage with the Imperial College Network of Excellence: Physics of Life ( The post will have a start date of October 2020 or before.

How to apply
Informal enquiry to Dr Chiu Fan Lee ([Email Address Removed]) is welcome. The application should include a full CV, names and addresses and contact details of two academic referees, a personal statement (500 words max) and a covering letter. Completed applications should be submitted to Dr Lee via email by 6 pm on the 28th February 2020.

Funding Notes

The studentship covers an annual tax-free stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£ 17,009 for 2019-20, to be confirmed for 2020-2021 but typically increases annually in line with inflation), and tuition fees at the UK/EU rate.


[1] C. A. Weber, D. Zwicker, F. Jülicher, and C. F. Lee, “Physics of active emulsions,” Reports Prog. Phys., vol. 82, no. 6, p. 064601, Jun. 2019.
[2] C. F. Lee and J. D. Wurtz, “Novel physics arising from phase transitions in biology,” J. Phys. D. Appl. Phys., vol. 52, no. 2, p. 023001, Jan. 2019.
[3] B. Partridge and C. F. Lee, “Critical Motility-Induced Phase Separation Belongs to the Ising Universality Class,” Phys. Rev. Lett., vol. 123, no. 6, p. 068002, Aug. 2019.
[4] J. D. Wurtz and C. F. Lee, “Stress granule formation via ATP depletion-triggered phase separation,” New J. Phys., vol. 20, no. 4, p. 045008, Apr. 2018.
[5] J. D. Wurtz and C. F. Lee, “Chemical-Reaction-Controlled Phase Separated Drops: Formation, Size Selection, and Coarsening,” Phys. Rev. Lett., vol. 120, no. 7, p. 078102, Feb. 2018.
[6] C. A. Weber, C. F. Lee, and F. Jülicher, “Droplet ripening in concentration gradients,” New J. Phys., vol. 19, no. 5, p. 053021, May 2017.
[7] C. F. Lee, C. P. Brangwynne, J. Gharakhani, A. A. Hyman, and F. Jülicher, “Spatial organization of the cell cytoplasm by position-dependent phase separation,” Phys. Rev. Lett., vol. 111, no. 8, p. 088101, 2013.

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