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University of Cardiff, President’s Research Bioimaging Scholarship
Study Subject : Bioimaging
Employer : University of Cardiff
Level : Phd
This is a Cardiff University President’s Research Scholarship, part of a new £4M investment to coincide with the inauguration of Professor Sir Martin Evans (Nobel Prize for Medicine 2007) as Cardiff’s new President.
All of the University Schools and Research Centres offering opportunities under the programme have demonstrated the real potential of the Scholarships to contribute to research excellence through significant, challenging and original PhD research projects and excellent PhD supervision and support.
Other attractive features of the Scholarships include the presence of multiple President’s Scholars in each of the research areas and the guaranteed exposure of President’s Scholars to innovative technologies, theories, methodological approaches, and debates.
Generation of nerve impulses or action potentials (APs) in neurons is the fundamental process by which information is rapidly relayed over long distances within multicellular organisms.
The standard model describing APs is the Hodgkin-Huxley model  established 60 years ago. In this model, APs depend on a transient bistability in transmembrane potential, caused by voltage- and time-dependent permeability of the membrane to Na+ and K+ ions. At rest, the potential inside a neuron is -70 mV compared to the outside.
Depolarisation of the membrane potential to a voltage threshold around -40 mV leads to a rapid switching behaviour, creating a transient peak up to about +50 mV lasting about 1 ms.
Several types of trans-membrane pore proteins, or ion channels, have been identified which create these changes in membrane permeability, principally voltage-gated, transiently-opening Na+-selective and K+-selective channels.
The received wisdom is that the overall structure of the membrane does not play a specific role.
However, there is indirect evidence from the workings of anaesthesia  and also from calorimetric measurements that APs could be accompanied by a transient membrane phase transition from disordered to more ordered lipids, i.e. from a more ‘melted’ state, to a more ‘solid’ state .
Indeed, part of the voltage dependence of many ion channels could be caused by such phase transitions.
Phase transitions may also allow the detection of APs via changes in the vibrational resonances of the membrane, using Coherent Anti-Stokes Raman Scattering (CARS) microscopy .
This would not only provide a new non-invasive imaging tool for studying APs in living organisms, one of the long sought-after ‘holy grails’ of neuroscience, but also would add a fundamental insight to our understanding of the biophysics of AP formation.
In this project, you will use electrophysiological techniques and a CARS microscope to investigate these ideas in axons, neurons, and brain slices.
The project can be suitable for graduates in Electrophysiology, Neurobiology, Physics, or Engineering and offers a unique cross-disciplinary training opportunity at the physics-life sciences interface.
Supervisors: The student will be trained by Guy Major (BIOSI) who has many years’ experience in neuronal imaging, electrophysiology and computational neuroscience techniques, and by Prof. Wolfgang Langbein (PHYSX) who is internationally recognised for developing CARS microscopy techniques.
University of Cardiff, President’s Research Bioimaging Scholarship Application Deadline : 13/02/2011