STI – Two PhD student positions in Interfacial Imaging of Water: New Light on Cellular Hydration

Two PhD student positions are available at the Laboratory for fundamental BioPhotonics (LBP) at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland.


Water is the liquid of life. It is intimately linked to our well-being. Without water, cell membranes cannot function. Charges and charged groups cannot be dissolved, self-assembly cannot occur, and proteins cannot fold. That water is intimately linked with life, we experience time and again when we quench our thirst, but how does this link work?

Osmosis is the flow of water across a (cell) membrane that separates two aqueous solutions with different concentrations of a solutes. Regulating osmotic pressure is a key survival strategy of cells and plays an important role in the functioning of every organism. How osmotic pressure and cell membrane tension are regulated on the molecular level is not known. It is the aim of the ERC Synergy Grant R2-Tension, a collaboration between EPFL (Prof. S. Roke) and the University of Geneva (Prof. A. Roux) to work this out. To do so, we will develop new technology and perform experiments in vitro and vivo.

The Project at EPFL – focused on technology development & in vitro studies

Nonlinear optical imaging and new ultrafast spectroscopic techniques have recently been developed in the Roke lab and used to image in real time interfacial water and electrostatic potentials on membrane interfaces of model membranes and in living cells.

In the current project: two new microscopes are to be constructed that will allow us to (1) image interfacial water in real time as well as the electrostatic field lines on the interface, and (2) image in real time membrane tension in vitro and in living systems. We will also provide a molecular ruler that links molecular conformation of lipids to mechanical forces. The new technology will first be applied in a controlled manner to in-vitro assays, after which measurements on living cells will be performed.

The EPFL Candidate

This research has many interdisciplinary aspects that demand a highly motivated candidate with strong analytical abilities that is able to think out of the box. The diverse aspects of the project allow a wide range of backgrounds that includes photonics, physics, chemistry/material science, electrical or bioengineering. Experience in nonlinear optics / microscopy, either theoretical or experimental is a bonus. We offer excellent working conditions and a state-of-the-art infrastructure in a highly dynamic and international environment at the forefront of research.

The Application Procedure

Applications should include a motivation letter, detailed CV, transcripts of diplomas as well as three letters of reference. In conjunction to the application the candidate should apply to one of the doctoral schools: photonics, materials science, or bioengineering (e.g.

More Information, for the position, contact Prof. Sylvie Roke, [email protected].