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Life Physics @ Ed

Welcome to LiPhE (pronounced ‘life’), the web site for Life Physics research in the School of Physics, the University of Edinburgh. Below, you will find an introduction to the group, information on PhD study and postdoctoral opportunities, a list of staff with a brief description of what they do and links to their personal pages, together with similar information on some of our biology collaborators.


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. Funding comes from EPSRC, BBSRC, DTI, Scottish Enterprise and the Wellcome Trust. Current grant income is in excess of £6M.

Life Physics researchers in Edinburgh are members of the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (SUPA). The SUPA Graduate School offers annual Prize Studentships for PhD study (the typical deadline is end of January for Fall entry).

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.



UK nationals are eligible for full funding by research council studentships of which we have several each year. EU nationals who have spent three continuous years in the UK prior to commencing PhD work (this includes years spent studying for a degree) are likewise eligible; other EU nationals can have their fees only paid by this route and will need to support their living costs by other means. SUPA offers annual prize studentships open to all nationalities; these cover all costs. Beyond this, the School has limited resources for its own funding of graduate students. All these studentships are typically for three years, although up to four years may exceptionally be available. For certain projects involving industrial collaboration, an additional 'top-up' allowance may be paid.

Postdoctoral work

From time to time we advertise postdoctoral research positions. You should keep an eye on the university’s job web site under School of Physics. Some of these will be for specific projects; in other cases, we can offer significant flexibility on the choice of work (including changing direction during your stay in Edinburgh).

A significant number of our postdoctoral researchers are funded by personal fellowships (typically from 3 to 5 years). If you want to propose a project with us, here are links to some for some of the UK funding agencies offering personal research fellowships (with typical deadlines – do check!):

If you are thinking of applying for one of these fellowships to come to work with us, do contact and/or visit us at the earliest opportunity: how well your proposal fits with on-going work and expertise here will partly determine your chances of success. In any case, in these days of ‘full economic costing’, working out all the financial details takes time!


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. Mike Cates (Royal Society Research Professor)
Simulation of active materials (bacterial swimmers, cytoskeletal networks); approximation methods for complex network dynamics.
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.
Dr. 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