School of Physics & Astronomy

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Opportunities for fully funded PhD or EngDoc research projects are available in all fields of research within the School. You may search for current projects on this page. APPLY HERE for a PhD Place.

 PhD in Photonics
 PhD in Condensed Matter
 PhD in Astrophysics

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Condensed Matter

Under Pressure: Measuring nanometre distance changes in biomolecules
Lovett, Dr Janet - jel20@st-andrews.ac.uk

Proteins and nucleic acids (collectively: biomolecules) often function through conformational changes. Understanding these changes helps to understand how they work, which is not only interesting but also influences nanotechnology and drug discovery. One way to induce changes in proteins may be to increase the pressure they are under. We can then trap this new state through freezing and investigate the changes. A promising method for detecting the changes is to use an electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) experiment called DEER which can measure nanometre-length distances between pairs of specifically placed molecules to map out the shape of the protein (Jeschke, Annu. Rev. Phys. Chem., 2012, 63, 419-446).

Together with our expert mechanical workshop team in St Andrews you would build a pressure cell suitable for fast freezing the high-pressure states. This is not without precedence: see Michael Lerch et al, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014, 111, E1201-E1210 and Lerch et al Methods in Enzymology, 2015, 564, pages 29-57, but there is still plenty to do. Completion of the first stage of the project would enable you to explore its application to biology.

A protein of particular interest in our laboratory is calmodulin which an important protein in many cellular processes as it changes its conformation in response to both calcium concentration and the presence of binding proteins.

The EPR at St Andrews is outstanding with X-band including a recent upgrade with an AWG, high powered Q-band and a homebuilt high-powered W-band spectrometer (HiPER) which is currently being upgraded to include an AWG which will further increase itís utility and sensitivity.

The EPR groups in St Andrews and Dundee have a world-leading reputation across development and applications. We meet regularly and are also part of the Centre for Magnetic Resonance, see https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/cmr/. The group headed by Janet Lovett currently has 4 PhD students who are based across Biology, Chemistry and Physics. The group webpages are https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/~jel20.

The laboratory skills you would learn are to design/build equipment (based on an existing protocol), biological handling techniques, and you would become skilled in EPR experiments. You would therefore gain a broad knowledge across scientific disciplines, and a background in any science subject is useful with an enthusiasm to broaden your skills and apply them in new situations.

Informal enquiries are welcome over email (jel20@st-andrews.ac.uk) or skype and you are welcome to visit St Andrews and our well-equipped laboratories.