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PhD Studentship: Reverse-engineering photosynthesis for improved light harvesting by investigating recombination mechanism in single biomolecules on a chip

Quantum, Light & Matter Group

Location:  Highfield Campus
Closing Date:  Saturday 31 August 2019
Reference:  1136019WF

Supervisor: Dr Luca Sapienza      

Project description

The progress in fundamental science and technology has allowed researchers to explore intriguing, but often elusive, quantum effects in atoms, ions and semiconductor nanostructures. Cryogenic temperatures and complex trapping techniques are often required to be able to access these fragile quantum states. Surprisingly, despite the requirement of relatively high temperatures and condensed-­-phase operation, there is a growing body of evidence that some biological molecules could host superpositions of quantum states for the time-­-scale of picoseconds [1, 2].

To move our understanding of quantum effects in biomolecules forward, we need experimental proofs that will give unambiguous evidence of quantum dynamics. The importance and potential benefits of this research span fundamental physics and biology, with possible technological applications in enhanced energy harvesting and quantum information technologies.

This project therefore aims at integrating cutting-edge quantum technology to the investigation of quantum effects in biomolecules. We will use platform technologies such as microfabricated single-photon emitters, photonic waveguides and optical cavities [3]. Leveraging the combined technologies will enable us to probe quantum states in single complex biological systems, going beyond current spectroscopic techniques.

The student will gain expertise in optical spectroscopy, quantum optics, nanofabrication and biochemistry. She/he will have access to the state-of-the-art £120M nanofabrication facilities at the University of Southampton and will carry out an interdisciplinary research project at the interface between quantum physics and biology.

This project is run in collaboration with James Sturgis, Professor of Biochemistry at Aix-Marseille Université (France), and Alexandra Olaya-Castro, Professor of Physics at University College London (UK). The student will spend at least 6 months in Marseille working on the synthesis of the biomolecules that will be optically characterized in Southampton. Theoretical support will be provided through the interaction with the group in London. The student will also attend regular meetings, carried out in Paris, to interact with other students working in the same field.

For more information, please contact Dr Luca Sapienza   website:

[1] F. Fassioli et al., Photosynthetic light harvesting: excitons and coherence, J. R. Soc. Interface 11, 20130901 (2013)

[2] E J O’Reilly and A. Olaya-­-Castro, Non-­-classicality of the molecular vibrations assisting exciton energy transfer at room temperature, Nature Communications 5, 3012 (2014)

[3] L. Sapienza et al., Nanoscale optical positioning of single quantum dots for bright and pure single-­-photon emission,

Nature Communications 6, 7833 (2015).

Key facts

Entry requirements: first or upper second-class 4-year degree or Master degree in physics, chemistry, materials or biology.

Closing date: applications should be received no later than 31 August 2019 for standard admissions, but later applications may be considered depending on the funds remaining in place.

Duration: four years (full-time)

Funding: full tuition fees, for UK/EU students, and a tax-free stipend of £15,009 per year

Assessment: Nine month and 18 month reports, viva voce and thesis examination

Start date: The project is expected to start in October 2019. 


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