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Theoretical investigation of biomolecules in quantum optomechanical setups

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  • Full or part time
    Prof A Olaya-Castro
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

A 4-year PhD position is available from 1rst Sep 2020 (or sooner) to work under the supervision of Professor Alexandra Olaya-Castro in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at University College London (UCL) in the United Kingdom.

Quantum effects in biology is an emergent scientific research area that aims to assert the presence and biological relevance of non-trivial quantum phenomena happening at the biomolecular level. In particular, there is scientific evidence suggesting that non-trivial quantum effects could be relevant to energy and charge transfer processes within supramolecular complexes present in photosynthetic organisms. One of the hypotheses for the mechanisms supporting quantum behaviour at room temperature is the involvement of vibrational motions assisting coherent electronic dynamics.

This project aims to develop theoretical studies that can help guiding new experimental explorations of the role of vibrations in the coherent quantum dynamics exhibited by individual photosynthetic complexes and other photo-active biomolecules. The project will investigate, theoretically and computationally, single biomolecules interacting with the confined modes in optical or optomechanical cavities. The aim is to understand how cavity-molecule interactions can be tailored to probe and to modify electronic and vibrational dynamics.

Through this project the PhD student will develop excellent analytical and computational skills and will gain expertise in the theoretical description of exact quantum dynamics of complex quantum systems, open quantum system dynamics at different levels of approximation, theoretical quantum optics and theory of characterization and quantification of quantum coherence.

The successful candidate will join the research group led by Professor Alexandra Olaya-Castro in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UCL and will collaborate with the experimental solid-state quantum optics group of Dr Luca Sapienza at the University of Southampton. Our research approach adheres to best practices in equality, diversity and inclusion and considers integrity and work-life balance as pillars of scientific excellence.

Funding Notes

Eligibility: Applicants should have, or be expecting to achieve, a first or upper-second class honours degree or equivalent, in physics, physical chemistry or a related subject. Strong mathematical background is required. Candidates must have effective written and verbal communication skills in English. Overseas candidates must satisfy UCL English language requirement:

Funding: The studentship will cover tuition fees either at the UK/EU rate or at the Overseas rate, plus a maintenance stipend for four years (standard maintenance stipend for the academic year 2020/2021 is £17400). Start date is as soon as possible and no later than 1st September 2020.


[1] G D Scholes, G R Fleming, A Olaya-Castro, R van Grondelle, “Lessons from nature about solar light harvesting”, Nature Chem. 3, 763 (2011)
[2] E J O’Reilly and A Olaya-Castro, “Non-classicality of the molecular vibrations assisting exciton energy transfer at room temperature”, Nature Comm. 5, 3013 (2014)
[3] R Stones, H. Hossein-Nejad, R. van Grondelle, and A Olaya-Castro, “On the performance of a photosystem II reaction centre-based photocell”, Chem. Sci., 8, 6871 (2017)

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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