Modelling crystal formation in complex systems (ESR10)

Applications are invited for an Early Stage Researcher (ESR)/PhD studentship position funded by The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Innovative Training Networks (ITN) programme “Rationalising Membrane Protein Crystallisation” (RAMP) and based in the Soft Matter Group of the Department of Physics at the University of Surrey. This is a computational-modelling/theory PhD project that will develop simple models for the formation of crystals in a complex system: membrane proteins.

The PhD project is one of 12 in the EU Marie Skłodowska Curie Action (MSCA) network RAtionalising Membrane Protein crystallisation (RAMP). Other PhD students in the network will work with both membrane proteins and with advanced microfluidics devices for crystallisation, while the successful candidate for this position will develop models to try and understand and predict the results of these experiments. Thus it will involve secondments to partners, in particular at Grenoble and Maynooth. We have access to a powerful compute server, for the more demanding calculations such as computer simulations.

The project is interdisciplinary in nature, and will suit candidates who want to apply the most powerful computational techniques and theoretical ideas from soft matter physics and related areas such as chemical engineering, to one of the toughest and most important problems in modern structural biology.

Humans have about 6,000 types of membrane proteins, but the high resolution protein structures we need in order to understand how a protein functions, can only be obtained by X-ray diffraction of crystals. Most membrane proteins are either impossible or very difficult to crystallise, meaning that we have only a poor understanding of what thousands of our proteins look like and how they function to keep us alive. RAMP’s objective is to attack this problem of membrane proteins refusing crystallise, and to train PhD students in the interdisciplinary skills needed. The techniques used will be a mixture of simple theoretical models, and computer simulations of simple crystallising systems. The aim will be to understand what factors need to be varied to produce the large highly ordered crystals that X-ray diffraction requires, and to use this understanding to make predictions that the experimental PhD students in the network can test.

Applicants with previous academic study in physics, chemistry, or chemical engineering (or related engineering fields), and who have experience of computation, are particularly suitable for this project. Prior knowledge of membrane proteins is not required. The 12 PhD students will receive training on membrane proteins, crystallography, etc, as well as industrial experience. Applicants should have, or expect, an upper second-class honours degree, or higher or a master’s degree with distinction.

Please see this website for more information on the network, and for more information on Dr Richard Sear’s research.

You will be paid a salary in line with the, generous, MSCA requirements, for 36 months. The exact salary will be confirmed later, but MSCA salaries are significantly above the standard UK PhD stipend of £15,000 per year.

Eligibility – due to the EU rules to promote mobility, you are not eligible for a position in a country where you have lived (worked, studied) for more than 12 months in the previous 3 years. So for this position you are eligible unless you have studied or worked in the UK for more than 12 of the last 36 months. For applicants finishing or who have just finished their degree, this typically means that you can be graduating from any university in the EU except a UK university.

Author: Richard Sear

Computational physicist at the University of Surrey. My research interests are in crystallisation, soft matter & biological physics