PhD Modeling (synthetic) cell division

PhD Modeling (synthetic) cell division

Published Deadline Location
20 Dec 1 Feb Delft

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Do you want to understand how life works at the molecular scale by helping us study and design methods for dividing synthetic cells?

Job description

Living cells are highly complex systems made of countless lifeless molecular components. We do not understand how these interact to form a living cell that sustains itself, grows and divides. The BaSyC (‘Building a Synthetic Cell’) initiative is a collaborative 10-year research program that aims to understand ‘how life works’ by building an autonomous self-reproducing synthetic cell from the bottom up. As a container, we use giant unilamellar vesicles, which are cell-sized, lipid bilayer-enclosed reaction compartments that can be visualized by real-time microscopy and directly manipulated using biophysical tools. Within this project, we will study the process of cell division using numerical simulations. This process requires constriction of the cell into a dumbbell-shape, followed by neck abscission to split the cell into two daughter cells. Especially the abscission step is poorly understood in living cells, and will therefore be the focus of this research project, in close collaboration with a parallel experimental project.

We will study various methods by which abscission may be achieved, taking inspiration from known protein machineries active in living cells such as dynamin and ESCRT. We expect that robust abscission will require the combination of the action of these protein machineries with the dynamics of the lipid bilayer membrane, to generate high curvatures in the neck region, which ultimately become unstable to vesicle splitting. We will model both spontaneous assembly of proteins and lipids in the neck, and experimental setups in which necks are artificially created using optical tweezers. For the modeling we will build on the expertise present in the Marrink (molecular dynamics of lipids) and Idema (whole-membrane shape simulations) groups. Throughout the project we will closely collaborate with other groups within the BaSyC consortium to ensure that the abscission pathway is compatible with other functionalities of the synthetic cell. In particular, there will be a parallel experimental project in the Koenderink and Dekker labs at TU Delft.


This simulation project will be co-supervised by Profs. Siewert-Jan Marrink (Groningen) and Timon Idema (TU Delft). Within TU Delft, the student will join the Idema group at the department of Bionanoscience, combined with frequent communications and visits to the Marrink group in Groningen.


Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)


We seek an outstanding theoretical (bio)physicist with a strong affinity for research at the interface of physics and biology and with relevant research experience in fields such as membrane, molecular, or cell biophysics or soft matter physics. We are looking for a candidate with a high level of intellectual creativity, genuine interest in fundamental research, who enjoys collaborations and easily communicates with scientists from different disciplines.

Applicants must

  • Hold a Master’s degree, or approach its completion, in physics, mathematics, nanobiology, chemistry, or a closely related discipline.
  • Have excellent written and spoken English skills (see below).
  • Thrive in an international, ambitious, multidisciplinary, and highly collaborative environment.
  • Be willing to work with supervisors from two different institutions.

Doing a PhD at TU Delft requires English proficiency at a certain level to ensure that the candidate is able to communicate and interact well, participate in English-taught Doctoral Education courses, and write scientific articles and a final thesis. For more details please check the Graduate Schools Admission Requirements.

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: 4 jaar.

Doctoral candidates will be offered a 4-year period of employment in principle, but in the form of 2 employment contracts. An initial 1.5 year contract with an official go/no go progress assessment within 15 months, followed by an additional contract for the remaining 2.5 years assuming everything goes well and performance requirements are met.

Salary and benefits are in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities, increasing from € 2541 per month in the first year to € 3247 in the fourth year. As a PhD candidate you will be enrolled in the TU Delft Graduate School. The TU Delft Graduate School provides an inspiring research environment with an excellent team of supervisors, academic staff and a mentor. The Doctoral Education Programme is aimed at developing your transferable, discipline-related and research skills.

The TU Delft offers a customisable compensation package, discounts on health insurance and sport memberships, and a monthly work costs contribution. Flexible work schedules can be arranged. For international applicants we offer the Coming to Delft Service and Partner Career Advice to assist you with your relocation.


Delft University of Technology

Delft University of Technology is built on strong foundations. As creators of the world-famous Dutch waterworks and pioneers in biotech, TU Delft is a top international university combining science, engineering and design. It delivers world class results in education, research and innovation to address challenges in the areas of energy, climate, mobility, health and digital society. For generations, our engineers have proven to be entrepreneurial problem-solvers, both in business and in a social context.

At TU Delft we embrace diversity as one of our core values and we actively engage to be a university where you feel at home and can flourish. We value different perspectives and qualities. We believe this makes our work more innovative, the TU Delft community more vibrant and the world more just. Together, we imagine, invent and create solutions using technology to have a positive impact on a global scale. That is why we invite you to apply. Your application will receive fair consideration.


Faculty Applied Sciences

With more than 1,000 employees, including 135 pioneering principal investigators, as well as a population of about 3,400 passionate students, the Faculty of Applied Sciences is an inspiring scientific ecosystem. Focusing on key enabling technologies, such as quantum- and nanotechnology, photonics, biotechnology, synthetic biology and materials for energy storage and conversion, our faculty aims to provide solutions to important problems of the 21st century. To that end, we train students in broad Bachelor's and specialist Master's programmes with a strong research component. Our scientists conduct ground-breaking fundamental and applied research in the fields of Life and Health Science & Technology, Nanoscience, Chemical Engineering, Radiation Science & Technology, and Engineering Physics. We are also training the next generation of high school teachers and science communicators.

Click here to go to the website of the Faculty of Applied Sciences.


  • PhD
  • Natural sciences
  • 38—40 hours per week
  • €2541—€3247 per month
  • University graduate
  • TUD03254


Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)

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