PhD Studentship

Microfluidics in waterborne pathogen detection

Heriot-Watt University funded PhD studentship: one fully-funded studentship investigating the use of microfluidics in waterborne pathogen detection is available from September 2013.The studentship will be undertaken at the Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering ( at Heriot-Watt University under the supervision of Dr Helen Bridle.

Development of microfluidic systems for waterborne pathogens offers many challenges and the exact focus of the PhD can be negotiated in accordance with the interests of the candidate.  Molecular methods are useful for the detection of waterborne pathogens as information on species and/or viability can be obtained. Such protocols can be miniaturised and performed on microfluidic chips. For the on chip detection of the pathogen Cryptosporidium there are several stages requiring work, including the development of a reliable extraction method from single oocysts, creation of an on-chip NASBA system and choice of appropriate detection technology. There are further issues related to system integration of microfluidic devices, especially related to coupling to sample processing units, to create systems capable of processing larger water volumes, with minimal user input. An alternative to the use of molecular methods is microfluidic systems coupled with either optical or electrical manipulation/detection protocols, e.g. Raman spectroscopy, dielectrophoresis or electrochemical impedance spectroscopy. Further work is needed to design, characterise  and develop these systems.

The Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering (IB3) is part of Heriot-Watt University and is focused on applying advances in the chemical, physical, and engineering sciences to enable and enhance life science research. The interdisciplinary research interests of the members and the state-of-the-art facilities provide a unique environment for integrative research. Approximately 100 PhD students are currently being trained in our Graduate School who benefit from core skills courses, post-graduate society activities and a truly inter-disciplinary environment in a beautiful campus.

We offer an ideal opportunity for an enthusiastic student to work at the scientific interface within the multi-disciplinary environment offered by IB3. The student will work with biologists, physicists and engineers to develop a skill base in microfluidics, microfabrication and waterborne pathogen biology. We welcome candidates with physics/engineering background keen to develop skills in microfluidics applied to pathogen detection. Full funding is available to UK and EU applicants only. The ideal candidate will have a 1st, or strong 2:1, honours degree in chemistry, physics, engineering (or similar scientific discipline) and have a keen interest in microfluidics research.

Interested candidates should, in the first instance, contact Dr Helen Bridle ( with a copy of their CV.

The Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering is actively recruiting researchers interested in working at the interface between the biological, chemical, physical and engineering sciences. Positions are available at all levels from Junior Fellows to Chair appointments.

In addition, we have a number of PhD Scholarships currently available for projects commencing in Autumn 2012. If you are interested in one of the positions below please contact the institute member directly. For general enquiries please contact us to register your interest in these opportunities and we will respond as soon as possible for further discussion.

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PhD Studentship

Biomembrane Voltage Sensors

A PhD position is available in the Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering.  In this exciting new project, the successful candidate will carry out a four year research programme on  a novel class of voltage -sensitive membrane protein (VSPTENs). Voltage sensitive ion channels are key membrane-located proteins that control signal transduction  in  excitable cells such as nerve and muscle. They have two integrated functions, voltage sensing and  pore forming. Generally the voltage sensor detects transmembrane voltage and then  ‘gates’ or opens the pore region to allow the selective flux of ions.  However,  recently it has been found  that certain transmembrane proteins use their voltage sensors to directly activate signaling via the  fixed charge movements of the voltage sensor (without the need for channel opening). This PhD will examine the function of voltage sensitive PTEN- like phosphatases  (VSPTENs). These proteins are the only example so far of   hybrid voltage sensor/cytoplasmic enzymes where enzymatic activity is controlled by transmembrane voltage. Understanding the biophysics of VSPTEN  could be very important considering the key roles that ‘conventional’ cytoplasmic  PTENs play in tumor suppression and synaptic plasticity.   The project will examine the expression and function of  VSP-PTEN  using tissue and cultured cells as well as examining the potential application of VSPTENs as biophysical tools. The project will take advantage of the expertise and facilities in HW in the electrophysiology of ion channels (Brown), PTEN  molecular function (Leslie) and molecular imaging (Duncan). The candidate will receive a  solid training in electrophysiology, imaging and molecular biology.

We are seeking a graduate with a 1st or strong 2:1 First degree in Biosciences, Biophysics or molecular biology. An interest in membrane signaling or  biophysics would be an advantage. We are keen that  the project to begin as soon as possible and  by September 2013 at the very latest. This studentship is a Heriot Watt themed studentship and provides full funding for a UK students for 4 years, with a tax-free stipend of £13,600.

PLEASE NOTE that there are eligibility criteria for these studentships relating to nationality, and period and purpose of residency in the UK.  Only EU nationals are eligible, but there are further restrictions for non-UK nationals.  

Interested candidates should contact Dr Euan R Brown (Euan.R.Brown@HW.AC.UK), with a copy of their CV.

1.  Brown ER Piscopo S .  (2011). Ion channels in key marine invertebrates; potential and applications in biotechnology.  Biotechnology Advances May 17. Volume: 29; 457-467.