PhD Position Modeling Cellular Deformation

PhD Position Modeling Cellular Deformation

Published Deadline Location
9 Apr 21 May 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 deforming and 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.

A key aspect of life is that it can reproduce. In order to duplicate itself, a cell needs to go through at least three steps: (1) replicate all its material, (2) deform its container and (3) split. To achieve these three steps, cells contain dedicated machinery. For the deformation and division steps, cells across kingdoms build self-assembling ring structures from protein filaments, such as the actin/septin ring in eukaryotic cells and the FtsZ ring in bacteria. Active contraction of these rings is key to both deformation and splitting. These processes will need to be reproduced in any artificial cell.

In this project, we’ll focus on step 2, investigating how the deformation can be achieved using materials that are either encapsulated or expressed inside the artificial cell. In particular, we want to find the conditions under which a membrane-deforming structure can autonomously first self-assemble on the inside of the vesicle and then actively deform it to a shape that can be split. We aim for a symmetric final shape that has higher total bending energy than two spherical daughter vesicles, even though there may still be an energy barrier involved in the actual splitting process. To achieve this goal, we will use a combination of analytical and numerical tools, and work in close collaboration with experimental groups, in particular the Koenderink and Dekker labs in the same department.

The position is in the theoretical biophysics group of Dr. Timon Idema in the Department of Bionanoscience.


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.

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 years.

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 € 2770 per month in the first year to € 3539 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 a monthly work costs contribution. Flexible work schedules can be arranged. 

For international applicants, TU Delft has the Coming to Delft Service. This service provides information for new international employees to help you prepare the relocation and to settle in the Netherlands. The Coming to Delft Service offers a Dual Career Programme for partners and they organise events to expand your (social) network.


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.

Challenge. Change. Impact!


Faculty Applied Sciences

With more than 1,100 employees, including 150 pioneering principal investigators, as well as a population of about 3,600 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 educate innovative 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.

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


  • PhD
  • Natural sciences
  • 36—40 hours per week
  • €2770—€3539 per month
  • University graduate
  • TUD05178


Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)

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