PhD in Engineering and Pharmacy: Artificial Cells as Living Technology

This funding opportunity has expired.

Key facts

Application deadline 21 December 2018
Start date January/April/July/October 2019
Duration 3.5 years
Level of study Postgraduate research
Award type PhD studentship
Number of studentships 2

The Barrow (Engineering) and Castell (Pharmacy) laboratories at Cardiff University seek motivated PhD candidates to contribute to an exciting €5M funded European collaboration in the field of synthetic biology and the development of programmable artificial cells as living technology.


This large-scale multidisciplinary research project aims to build on our existing work in the fabrication of membrane compartmentalised artificial cells that harness some of the complexity observed in biological systems.

As a central technology, these engineered synthetic cells provide a platform to encapsulate chemical and biochemical processes within cell-like structures that can then be programmed and orchestrated to act in dynamic and responsive ways, much like their biological counterparts.

By exploiting biologically controlled approaches to material engineering this promises new technological capabilities with broad applications - from helping us better understand the functions of the cell and how disfunction gives rise to disease, to the development of drug discovery and characterisation platforms, new diagnostics and smart-functional-materials.

Project description

The emerging field of Synthetic Biology involves the application of engineering principles to biological systems and components. Artificial cells are engineered elements made via this approach that mimic some of the essential characteristics of biological cells. Such materials hold great promise as a new class of functional materials well suited to sophisticated and complex tasks through their potential to act in dynamic and responsive ways.

This project aims to build on our earlier work in the microfluidic fabrication of membrane compartmentalised artificial cells as precision built, ordered, hierarchical cellular constructs - a design mimicking living systems. In these systems we are able to reconstitute functional water-soluble and membrane proteins, in addition to synthetic chemistries.

We aim to develop new approaches to provide control of spatially organised chemistries, their interaction and regulation to elicit new and useful functions - such as stimuli-responsiveness, sensing, chemical-synthesis, and smart integration of these properties - to produce next generation soft-matter materials inspired by biology.

It is anticipated that such synthetic biological systems will play important roles in diverse application areas such as drug delivery, tissue engineering, bio- and environmental-sensing and future smart materials.

Training environment

Cardiff University was rated 5th in the UK for the quality of its research in the 2014 UK Research Excellence Framework (REF) assessment. Research at Cardiff University is working across disciplines to tackle major challenges facing society, the economy and the environment. Research in the Castell and Barrow laboratories takes an interdisciplinary approach at the interface of the physical and biological sciences.

This project will utilise many techniques and allow for the development of a wide array of skills. Between the complementary PhD opportunities on offer, techniques will include biochemistry and molecular biology, microfabrication, microfluidics, and microscopy, together with chemical and biophysical methods in addition to coding for experimental design and data analysis, and COMSOL simulation.

The required resources are all available between the host Schools of Engineering and Pharmacy. The work will take place within a multidisciplinary team of wide-ranging expertise, within which the successful candidates will play active roles and synergise with other researchers.

Students will contribute to the wider European collaborative team of the Artificial Cells as Living Technology project, providing the opportunity to interact with partners in Italy, France and Switzerland contributing to collaborative research, network events and presenting at meetings. This will result in an extremely well-rounded, interdisciplinary and highly employable individual. Future prospects look good, especially in several advanced engineering and bio-technology fields, such as bioengineering and biomedicine.


Funding details

Tuition fee support Full UK/EU tuition fees
Maintenance stipend Doctoral stipend matching UK Research Council National Minimum

Eligibility criteria

Residency UK Research Council eligibility conditions apply
Academic criteria

You should achieve 2:1 or higher in a relevant subject area of either the physical or life sciences, such as biomedical sciences, biology, pharmacy, medicine, physiology, biochemistry, chemistry, physics, engineering or related subjects. An interest in multidisciplinary research and a desire to learn across disciplines is essential.

We are seeking enthusiastic scientists with appropriate knowledge/experience/ideas in some of the areas outlined (see training environment) with an eagerness to learn and develop in the aspects that are new to the candidate. We do not expect prior experience in all areas.

An appropriate Masters level qualification in a relevant subject area would be advantageous, although is not essential and talented and enthusiastic candidates without a Masters degree should not be discouraged from applying. These projects would suit talented individuals with strong backgrounds in either biological (eg cell biology, biochemistry, pharmacy, medicine) or physical (eg physics, chemistry, engineering, biophysics) sciences looking to apply their knowledge across discipline boundaries.

Please note that you  must have obtained your first degree before the programme start date.

If English is not your first language, then you must obtain 6.5 IELTS with at least 5.5 in each subscore (or equivalent qualification).

This studentship is open to Home or EU candidates.

Please note that overseas candidates may apply but must confirm that they are able pay the difference between home and overseas fees (approx. £15K pa) themselves.

In the first instance, you should submit a CV and covering letter outlining your motivation and suitability for the role, to Prof. David Barrow (Engineering) and Dr. Oliver Castell (Pharmacy).

The successful candidates will then be invited to submit a standard application for Postgraduate Study via the Online Application Service.

We reserve the right to close applications early should sufficient applications be received.

Join us on 27 March to find out more about postgraduate funding opportunities for September 2019.

Eligible research programmes