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PhD Studentship – Predicting Skin Interactions and Permeation of Chemical Agents using Computational Modelling

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  • Full or part time
    Prof J W Essex
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

Project Description

Co-Supervisor: Dr Thomas J Piggot (Dstl)

The skin is the outermost barrier for most of the human body. The majority of chemicals that come into contact with the body will initially do so through an interaction with the skin. It is imperative, therefore, that a detailed understanding of the interaction of chemical agents with the skin is obtained in order to inform and improve processes such as the removal of chemical agents from the skin. Furthermore, chemical agents that enter the body frequently do so through permeating this skin barrier. Understanding and predicting this permeation is vital in both trying to prevent this permeation from happening, and in the assessment of previously uncharacterised hazardous chemical agents.

This PhD project will develop and validate a novel and unique computational model of the stratum corneum membrane. The stratum corneum is both the outermost layer of the skin and the main barrier to skin permeation. This makes it ideal to study for both skin interactions and permeation. The studentship will involve extending the coarse-grained ELBA lipid model, developed within the Essex group, to include the lipids of the stratum corneum membrane. The ELBA model is unique in that it incorporates realistic electrostatic interactions (charges and dipoles) within a coarse-grained lipid model, and also allows hybrid atomistic/coarse-grained simulations to be performed. With the application of this model we aim to overcome the limitations associated with previous studies of the stratum corneum.

This developed model will subsequently be used to study the interaction with, and permeation of, chemical agents of interest to Dstl with the skin. These will include various chemical warfare agents, models of which will be developed and validated by the student at Dstl Porton Down as part of short placement periods during the PhD. The ultimate aim of the project will be to provide a predictive computational model regarding the interaction and permeation of chemical agents with the skin barrier.

During the PhD, the student will have the chance to learn a wide variety of computational techniques and there is scope for developing methodological improvements. Through the short placements, the student will also be in a unique position to gain experience of working at the forefront of UK government defence science.

This 4-year Industrial CASE studentship includes a 3-month placement at Dstl Porton Down. We welcome applicants from the UK who have or expect to obtain at least an upper second class degree in Chemistry, Physics, Biochemistry or allied disciplines.

Funding Notes

Funding will cover fees and stipend at current research council rates per annum (the 2019/20 stipend rate is £15,009), together with an additional £2,500 per annum top up from Dstl.

Due to funding restrictions this position is only open to UK students who meet the RCUK eligibility criteria


Applications for a PhD in Chemistry should be submitted online at

Please ensure you select the academic session 2019-20 when making your application in the academic year field and click on the Research radio button. Enter Chemistry in the search text field. General enquiries should be made to Prof Jonathan Essex at [email protected] Any queries on the application process should be made to [email protected]

Applications will be considered in the order that they are received, and the position will be considered filled when a suitable candidate has been identified

The University of Southampton and the School of Chemistry both hold Athena SWAN Silver Awards, reflecting their commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion, and particularly to gender equality.

How good is research at University of Southampton in Chemistry?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.80

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