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Unravelling the nature of hair: How protein composition and structure responds to damage

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Tuesday, April 14, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The use of hair treatments is common across many countries in the world. These can involve a reactive chemical treatment in order to modify hair proteins (keratins) but are often detrimental to hair structure and composition. Restorative proteins and protein hydrolysates from many sources are frequently added to hair care formulations as they have been proven to penetrate into the hair’s cortex and in some cases have been shown to modify the physical and even moisture binding properties of hair.

However, surprisingly little information is available regarding the protein composition of hair and it is not known to any degree of certainty which proteins are damaged or lost from hair as a consequence of chemical treatments and if these can be replaced by similar, or identical proteins to restore the properties of the hair. The successful candidate will get the opportunity to explore this exciting area by addressing a fundamental gap in our knowledge and through our industrial partner have the potential to make a real world impact.


The candidate will be developed by a becoming a team-member of a international, world leading research groups, where both technical training and soft skills will be provided and tailored to their background and experience. The project will use state of the art mass spectrometry-based proteomics to characterise the protein composition of hair and determine which that are lost or modified due to the use of damaging treatments. This will be combined with state of the art single fibre mechanical testing and morphological analysis to relate structure to function. Subsequently complementary restorative proteins and protein hydrolysates will be analysed and their sequences compared to those found within the hair before applying them to damaged hair and determining if they can restore natural functions .

The successful candidate will be trained in protein biochemistry and analytical chemistry techniques (under the supervision of Dr Mark Collins, biOMICS Facility (https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/biomics) to characterise and quantify proteins and protein modifications extracted from or remaining within hair fibres. They will also be trained and supervised by Dr Chris Holland in the Materials Science and Engineering Department (www.naturalmaterialsgroup.com) where they will learn how to analyse the mechanical and structural properties of a single hair. This PhD will include a placement (6-9 months) at CRODA’s research centre near Liverpool (Widnes) where they will gain invaluable industrial research experience and see first hand how benchtop science translates into commercial reality.

Croda is the name behind the high-performance ingredients in some of the biggest, most successful brands in the world, creating products that are relied on by industries and consumers worldwide. The company has approximately 3500+ employees working across 18 manufacturing sites and in offices in over 30 countries. Market sectors served include Personal Care, Crop Care, Home Care, Health Care, Geo Technologies, Industrial Chemicals, Polymer Additives, Coatings and Polymers and Lubricants.

Funding Notes

This studentship will pay tuition fees in full and a stipend for living expenses for 3.5 years. This stipend will be at the RCUK minimum with an additional enhancement of £2,500pa.

Funding covers home tuition fees and annual maintenance payments for eligible UK and EU applicants. EU nationals must have lived in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the programme to be eligible for a full award (fees and stipend).

This position may be closed before the deadline if a suitable candidate is found.

How good is research at University of Sheffield in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Metallurgy and Materials?
Materials Science and Engineering

FTE Category A staff submitted: 34.80

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

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