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  Viral-surface interactions studied by vibrational sum-frequency spectroscopy

   Department of Materials

  Dr Andrew Thomas,  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

The recent COVID-19 pandemic, and in particular fomite transmission of the virus, led to a lot of interest in how viral particles attached to surfaces, their survival times on different materials and how they transferred to hosts. COVID-19 was in some ways relatively easy to deal with since as a lipid encapsulated virus, soap-based detergents and alcohol-based sanitisers were able to destroy the virus. Non-enveloped viruses such as noravirus and enterovirus have the genetic material protected by a protein-based capsid. These are more difficult to remove and can remain active on many surfaces for a significant length of time. This has led to widespread outbreaks of noravirus, for example, in clinical and leisure settings over the years. There are also enveloped viruses such as hepatitis B which can exist in a dried state and remain infectious for extended periods.

The search for virus resistant surfaces is an extremely active field but to date there has been no detailed molecular scale study of how the chemistry and structure of real surfaces in the presence of water may encourage or prevent virion adsorption and viability. Rather, there has been a “design by trial and error” approach.

This project will utilise the technique of sum-frequency spectroscopy to study the surface chemistry of viral particles as they interact with materials commonly found in clinical settings i.e. steel, aluminium, antimicrobial copper alloy “touch” surfaces, PTFE and polythene. Initial studies will focus on the study of the surfaces and the surface chemistry of the “clean surfaces, treated with surfactants, detergents and other disinfectant systems. This will allow us to determine how the chemistry of the surface, and in particular the nature of the so-called adventitious hydrocarbon layer may affect the adsorption and structure of an adsorbed virus. We will then progress to study proteins extracted from viral capsids as a function of pH, before and after cleaning of the material surfaces with detergents, commercial anti-microbial solutions and alcohols. These data will allow us to determine whether these pre-treatments affect the protein structure, and therefore the likely viability of the virus. Protein conformation will also be studied when cleaning agents are applied after protein adsorption.

For the final stages of the project, tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) will be used to confirm whether protein conformation is a good indicator of the viability of a live virus on a surface. TMV has no risk to human health so samples can be prepared in a category 1 biosafety laboratory and studied in a closed system in the SFG system.

The proposed start date of the PhD is October 2023.

Before you apply

We strongly recommend that you contact the supervisor(s) for this project before you apply.


Applicants should have, or expect to achieve, at least a 2.1 honours degree or a master’s in a relevant science or engineering related discipline.

How to apply:

You will need to submit an online application through our website here:

When you apply, you will be asked to upload the following supporting documents: 

• Final Transcript and certificates of all awarded university level qualifications

• Interim Transcript of any university level qualifications in progress

• CV

• You will be asked to supply contact details for two referees on the application form (please make sure that the contact email you provide is an official university/ work email address as we may need to verify the reference)

• English Language certificate (if applicable)

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. We know that diversity strengthens our research community, leading to enhanced research creativity, productivity and quality, and societal and economic impact.

We actively encourage applicants from diverse career paths and backgrounds and from all sections of the community, regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation and transgender status.

We also support applications from those returning from a career break or other roles. We consider offering flexible study arrangements (including part-time: 50%, 60% or 80%, depending on the project/funder).

Biological Sciences (4) Chemistry (6) Materials Science (24)

Funding Notes

The PhD is self funded but there may be some funding available such as DTA (for UK students) or Dean's Doctoral Scholarship/ President's Doctoral Scholarship (available to home and overseas applicants). Dr Thomas will need to nominate you for this award. Please email Dr Thomas to discuss your application.
At Manchester we offer a range of scholarships, studentships and awards at university, faculty and department level, to support both UK and overseas postgraduate researchers.
For more information, visit our funding page (View Website)

Register your interest for this project