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School of Physical and Chemical Sciences

Control of Membrane Transport in Polymer Based Artificial Cells

Research Group: Functional Materials and Nanoscience
Number of Students: 1
Length of Study in Years: 3
Full-time Project: yes


  • Available to home applicants and international students.
  • Applicant required to start in September 2024.
  • The studentship arrangement will cover home tuition fees and provide an annual stipend for up to three years (Currently set for 2023/24 as £20,622).
  • International students note that this studentship only covers home tuition fees and students will need to cover the difference in fees between the home and overseas basic rate from external sources. 

Project Description

Artificial cell and organelle construction has recently gained substantial attention to generate simplified models for understanding of biological phenomena, or micro- and nanomachines for biomedical and biotechnological applications. A wide array of building blocks has been employed to build these systems as membraneless structures with the ability to compartmentalize chemical reactions by enhanced partitioning, or as membrane-defined entities that provide a physical barrier that inhibits the interference of external factors. While these systems present unique properties that enable high fidelity to biological processes, they present limited ability to recreate the high selectivity and specificity of small molecule trafficking observed in biological membranes. Owing to their high chemical versatility, polymers can be leveraged to generate 3D structures that resemble biological membranes while providing transmembrane chemical motifs that enable responsiveness to a wide array of stimuli. This PhD studentship will focus on the ability to control membrane transport facilitating the emergence of out-of-equilibrium feedback mechanisms that ultimately modulate enzymatic rates. This can be employed to engineer future artificial cells and organelles that display homeostasis as a mechanism of self-adaptation to continuously evolving environments.

The Rifaie-Graham Lab is a newly established group at the Department of Chemistry of QMUL applying polymer chemistry, nanotechnology, organic synthesis, and synthetic biology to design bio-inspired materials and practical solutions for biotechnology, therapy, and diagnosis. Recent contributions from the Lab include the generation of polymer-enzyme artificial cells and organelles (nanoreactors) that mimic oscillations of metabolites occurring in circadian rhythms (Nature Chemistry,, that imitate the bioluminescence of dinoflagellates in glowing seas (Angewandte Chemie,, and that imitate light perception (JACS,

The successful candidate will be expected to perform polymer and small molecule synthesis, self-assembly of polymers and enzymes and will characterise the synthesised products by electron microscopy techniques as well as a variety of spectroscopy techniques. Collaboration with groups that interface the systems with living cells and that deploy molecular dynamics simulations will be possible.


  • The minimum requirement for this studentship opportunity is a good Honours degree (minimum 2(i) honours or equivalent) or MSc/MRes in a relevant discipline.
  • If English is not your first language you will require a valid English certificate equivalent to IELTS 6.5+ overall with a minimum score of 6.0 in Writing and 5.5 in all sections (Reading, Listening, Speaking).

Application Method:

To apply for this studentship and for entry on to the Chemistry programme (Full Time) please follow the instructions detailed on the following webpage:

Deadline for application - 31st of January 2024

Supervisor Contact Details:

For informal enquiries about this position, please contact Dr Omar Rifaie-Graham


SPCS Academics: Dr Omar Rifaie-Graham