Brillouin microscopy of keratin structures

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Physics


We seek a talented physical scientist / engineer (PhD student) to join our multidisciplinary team in Biospectroscopy / Biophysics in Exeter. You will study for a PhD in the development of an emerging biophotonic technology called Brillouin microscopy. We are leaders in this field and the successful candidate would be part of developing a platform technology that combines Brillouin probing with Raman signal detection and advanced data analysis. The successful applicant would participate in a multi-disciplinary industrial partnership programme, joining a team of leading scientists from the University of Exeter, University of Perugia (Italy) and Unilever working to develop biotechnology and biological science solutions to address critical needs in spectroscopic imaging with a small number of photons.

Keratin is one of the principal mammalian structural proteins whose mechanical properties, from nanoscale to macroscale dimensions, are fundamental for cellular activities, such as cell growth and protein synthesis, and consequent tissue function. The mechanical properties of materials and tissues differ greatly on the methodology used to measure them, and the available information are widely dispersed. This project focuses on the fibrous protein keratin found in body structures (i.e. hair and skin) to elucidate its stiffness on a microscopic scale and how the local environment affects it.

Preliminary work by us has characterised the full elasticity of fibrous proteins collagen and elastin, and obtained mechanical maps of biomaterials and tissues including keratin/human hair using Brillouin microspectroscopy.

This project aims to take that work further and implement a multi-modal approach through correlative Brillouin-Raman scattering to understand the effect of chemical and physical insults on keratin/hair strength and structure. Emerging insights in biomaterial stiffness on a micrometre scale might pave the way for the next decade's advances in tissue bioengineering.

The PhD project will be based at the University of Exeter, with experimental work being undertaken within Physics on the Streatham Campus, and with placements at Unilever where complementary techniques are applied. Supervision will be provided by Dr Francesca Palombo, Associate Professor of Biomedical Spectroscopy, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Exeter; Prof Nick Stone, Professor of Biomedical Imaging and Biosensing, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Exeter; Dr Paul D A Pudney, Science Leader Vibrational Spectroscopy, Unilever.

The PhD student will benefit from working in a multidisciplinary environment within Biomedical Physics at Exeter. This research would suit a candidate with a Physics, Natural Sciences, or Optical Engineering degree, ideally with previous experience developing analytical tools such as microscopy and spectroscopy techniques. This fully funded PhD studentship is available from the 2020/21 academic year for 4 years.

For more information about the project and informal enquiries, please contact the primary supervisor, Dr Francesca Palombo


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/V509450/1 29/09/2021 28/09/2025
2582490 Studentship BB/V509450/1 30/09/2021 29/09/2025 FELIX WEEDON