Science and Engineering at The University of Edinburgh

Physics of Living Matter


Profs. Graeme Ackland, Charles Cockell, Jason Crain, Martin Evans and Wilson Poon; Drs. Rosalind Allen, Jochen Arlt, Richard Blythe, Cait MacPhee and Davide Marenduzzo.

About Us

Our research in this area spans many length and time scales: from aqueous solutions of small bioactive molecules through proteins and DNA to single cells, cell-cell interactions, and collection of organisms in ecosystems, studying phenomena occurring at picoseconds to decades. We use all three methodologies of physics: experiment, simulation and theory. Many experiments use optical techniques made available through COSMIC. Wet labs designed for routine work at biological hazard containment level 1, and upgradeable by containment level 2, are available. Among the powerful resources accessed by our computer simulators and theorists is a 5 teraflop IBM BlueGene-L supercomputer hosted by the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre (EPCC). Much of the research is closely tied to our programme on soft matter and statistical physics and complexity. Funding comes from EPSRC, BBSRC, DTI, Scottish Enterprise and the Wellcome Trust. Current grant income is in excess of £6M.

Physics of Living Matter are members of the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (SUPA) Physics and Life Sciences (PaLS) theme. The SUPA Graduate School offers annual Prize Studentships for PhD study (the typical deadline is end of January for entry in September).

PhD Study

We are able to offer projects across a very wide range of life physics research in experiment, theory and simulation. The best way to find out what may interest you is to browse the staff home pages given below and then contact relevant members of staff by email. Many students joining us will have the opportunity to work closely with staff from the School of Biological Sciences (and indeed in many cases they will be jointly supervised by physicists and biologists). Some of our local biology collaborators and their expertise are listed below. For more details on PhD studies, see here.

Details of staff interests

Prof. Graeme Ackland
Computer simulation of complex evolving systems; PI of the EPSRC project Novel Approaches to Networks of Interacting Autonomes (NANIA)
Dr. Rosalind Allen (Royal Society of Edinburgh Research Fellow)
Simulation and experiment on genetic switching, including growth rate effects.
Dr. Jochen Arlt (COSMIC laboratory manager)
Biophysical applications of laser tweezers, especially to bacteria
Dr. Richard Blythe (Research Council UK Complexity Research Fellow)
Language evolution; theoretical population genetics.
Prof. Charles Cockell
Life in extreme environments; microorganisms in extremes.
Dr. Jason Crain (Director of COSMIC; National Physical Laboratory Divisional Head of Science)
Atomistic simulations of aqueous solutions of biomolecules, especially peptides of pharmaceutical relevance; new optical techniques for biophysics; biosensors.
Prof. Martin Evans
Theory of biophysical transport processes
Dr. Cait MacPhee (Royal Society University Research Fellow)
Protein misfolding, aggregation and fibrillogenesis; biomimetic materials.
Dr. Davide Marenduzzo (SUPA Advanced Fellow)
Coarse grained biophysical simulations, including biopolymers and cell mechanics.
Prof. Wilson Poon (EPSRC Senior Research Fellow)
The physics of bacteria, including motion in viscoelastic media, cell mechanics aggregation, biofilm formation and evolution; protein solution – phase behaviour and metastability

Some of our biology collaborators (Edinburgh unless otherwise stated)

Prof. Nick Barton
Theoretical evolutionary biology
Dr. Gail Ferguson (Aberdeen)
Microbiology: pathogens, symbionts and extremophiles
(Gail used to be a member of the Centre for Science at Extreme Conditions, CSEC, in Edinburgh)
Dr. Andrew Free
Microbial ecology
Dr. David Dryden
Biophysical chemistry of DNA and DNA-protein interactions
Dr. Chris French
Microbial biotechnology; synthetic biology
Dr. Maurice Gallagher
Food pathogens; bacterial transport systems
Prof. Peter Ghazal
Genomics and biochips
Prof. David Leach
Replication, DNA Repair and Recombination in the Maintenance of Genome Stability
Prof. Nick Read
Fungal biology
Dr. Bruce Ward
Medical and food microbiology; magnetotatic bacteria

Other useful links