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PhD Project - Magnetic phase plates

 Biologists and medical researchers are continually in need of more information about the structure of proteins and other large biological molecules.  When such molecules are examined by cryo-electron microscopy, their images often contain phase shifts but little variation in amplitude.   If an image is then focussed on a typical detector whose output depends only on intensity, the resulting signal shows little contrast.   The same effect appears in light microscopy, where a 'phase plate' can be used to change the phase of the light scattered by the specimen (relative to the unscattered light).  This research project is about developing and demonstrating a phase plate that will provide the same correction in electron microscopy.

 Many types of phase plate for electron microscopy have already been tried.  We aim to improve on them by using properties of a thin ring of magnetic material that have been demonstrated but not yet applied to phase plates.  The Cavendish Lab has excellent facilities for making and testing such rings in the labs of the Thin-Film Magnetism and Semiconductor Physics groups together with the Electron Microscopy suite.  The Thin-Film Magnetism group is the largest group working in this field in Europe and is able to provide extensive collaboration and advice.

 The project requires fabrication of patterned materials on both micrometric and nanometric scales by methods such as focused-ion-beam machining, with inspection by scanning and transmission microscopy; deposition of thin magnetic films by molecular-beam epitaxy, sputtering or ebeam-induced deposition; characterisation of magnetic properties using ebeam holography and other methods; and demonstration of phase correction by operating transmission electron microscopes in novel configurations. When correction is demonstrated, there is likely to be demand from biologists for further measurements.  An experimentally-minded student will be able to learn and develop a wide range of techniques that are valued in many other fields as well as thin-film magnetism.  For further details please contact Dr. C. J.  Edgcombe (<>) or Prof. C.H.W.Barnes (<>).

PhD Project - Hypethermia and targeted drug delivery for cancer treatment

Electromagnetic irradiation (EMI) and the use of magnetic nanoparticles (MNPs) have emerged as powerful tools for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes in the fields of biology and healthcare. EMI has been used for the induction of hyperthermia and MNPs can be used for targeted drug delivery. Both applications aim at eradicating cancerous tumours locally or regionally while minimising or even eliminating any side effects. In hyperthermia, heat is generated to induce regional and even localised cancerous cell death. In targeted drug delivery, smart nanoelements loaded with anticancer drugs are being developed for the next generation of efficient oncologic therapies where a small dose of the drug is delivered to a small area around the target tumour site.

 In the proposed project, the PhD student will work on the development of techniques and technologies for targeted drug delivery via specially synthesised magnetic nanocomplexes and for the induction of regionally targeted hyperthermia by means of externally applied non ionising electromagnetic irradiation. In addition, the project will explore the influence of reduction-oxidation reactions and charge transfer on generating free radicals which could be lethal for cancer cells. A method is being developed by the group for synthesising nanocomplexes, comprising magnetic nanoparticles and standard anti-cancer drug compounds (such as doxorubicin and cisplatin) using mechano-chemical activation under the application of external magnetic fields. The resulting nanocomplexes possess superior physical and chemical properties, such as increased magnetisation, which make them ideal elements to inject and concentrate in tumour sites. In addition, the project involves the further development of non invasive technologies for the induction of local and regional mild hyperthermia by means of external electromagnetic irradiation. Mild hyperthermia refers to raising the temperature around solid tumours to no more than 40º C. This has been shown to be very effective in increasing the efficacy of chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

 The project is in close collaboration with Cavendish NanoTherapeutics (CNT), a private spin off company based inCambridge, engaged in the development of technologies aimed at increasing the efficacy or chemotherapy or radiotherapy by utilising targeted therapies. In addition, the project is in collaboration with teams from the National Cancer Institute inKiev,Ukraine. It is anticipated that the PhD student will also closely work with teams from the Department of Medicine on clinical tests and trials. The Head of the Thin Film Magnetism group, Dr Crispin Barnes, will supervise the student, together with Dr Thanos Mitrelias and DrMarinaTselepi of CNT and Professor Valerii Orel fromKiev.

PhD Project - Magnetic Tagging and tracing platform technologies

Tagging and tracing technologies have attracted significant interest from the scientific community due to numerous applications in diverse fields such as in clinical diagnostics, health care, oil & gas and other chemical industries, etc. The proposed project is to develop further a platform and disruptive technology based on magnetic micro- and nanotags which can either be functionalised with biomolecular probes to be used for health care applications or used for diagnostic tracing of fluid flows in oil reservoirs and pipelines. The tags are free flowing objects with unique barcodes (magnetic or optical) on their surface. The tags can flow in microfluidic channels and encode for different biomolecular probes. Some of the unique aspects of our technology are: (i) enabling diagnostics in a highly multiplexed manner, i.e. tracing and identifying a large number of biomolecular probes and/or for the continuous and dynamic identification of the conditions in an oil pipeline or an oilfield; (ii) enabling diagnostics using a portable, hand held system, which can be used for in-the-field and point-of-care applications. This is due to the disruptive nature of our tagging method which is based on advanced magnetics; hence the key component of the reader is a magnetic microchip which is miniaturised and low cost. The miniaturisation of the magnetic microchip is further enabled by the integration of microfluidics and electronics in one integrated platform.

We have recently identified a very promising application of our technology in the oil and gas industry, in addition to applications in point of care clinical diagnostics. There is a huge interest from petrochemical companies in technologies that would allow them to (i) map the fluid flow in underground oil reservoirs in a continuous and dynamic manner and (ii) to tag the fluid flow in oil pipelines for tracing and authentication purposes. Specifically, one of the key problems the petrochemical companies are facing is that only 1/3 of the oil estimated to be in a given oil field is extracted, while the other 2/3s are not easy to locate due to the ground morphology. Thus, the value of a technology that helps to map the flow and increase production even by a few percent is potentially on the order of tens to hundreds of millions of dollars per oil field. The oil and gas industry has very recently began to explore technologies based on nanotechnology for such applications where the particles are used as tracers of the flow patterns in the well.

The PhD student will work on the further development of the platform technology with an emphasis on the applications in the oil & gas industry, but also on clinical diagnostics. The project is in collaboration with Cambridge BioMagnetics (CBM), a private spin off company engaged in the development and applications of micro-tagging technologies. The supervisor of the project will be the Head of the Thin Film Magnetism group and the student will be co-supervised by Dr Thanos Mitrelias and Dr Theo Trypiniotis of CBM.  

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