PhD - The Polymorphs of Biomineral Nanoparticles
Biomineralisation produces some of nature's most astoundingly intricate and astonishing structures. Bones, teeth and shells are all grown by processes which are poorly understood, and demonstrate fine control over material crystallisation which is impossible to achieve in the lab. I study such processes using atomistic molecular simulation, principally of the three major calcium carbonate polymorphs - calcite, aragonite and vaterite.
The key question we're trying to answer is "how do such systems nucleate and grow?". The classical nucleation theory states that single ions drop out of solution into unstable small crystals until by chance one of these nanoparticles gets large enough so that its growth becomes energetically favourable. recently however there's been a lot of evidence, both from experiment and simulation [1,2], that this isn't what happens for calcium carbonates. Here, rather than going straight from solution to crystal, it's thought that amorphous precurser nanoparticles form, which then themselves crystallise. Biological organisms might then create an environment that catalyses the amorphous/crystal transition .
In my work I've been studying the conformation and stability of crystalline nanoparticles across a range of sizes, and we've recently been starting to study the amorphous/crystal transition too.
 Gebauer, Völkel and Cölfen. Science, 322 (5909):1819-1822, 2008
 Raiteri and Gale. JACS 132(49):17623-17634, 2010
 Freeman, Harding, Quigley and Rodger. Angewandte Chemie 49(30):5135-5137, 2010
MSc Mathematical Biology and Biophysical Chemistry (Distinction)
I thoroughly enjoyed the MSc and studied topics in Biology, Chemistry, Maths, molecular simulation and systems biology, reaching distinction level in every module. As part of the MSc I undertook three 8 week miniprojects in the following topics:
Computer Simulation of Transmembrane Peptides (Supervisor: Prof. Michael Allen, Physics)
In the theoretical chemistry project, I adapted an existing C code to study WALP alpha helices in lipid bilayers, to try and understand how the interaction between such peptides changed with the phase of the lipids. The code used the coarse-grained simulation technique dissipative particle dynamics, and I also useful experience in MATLAB, TCL and BASH scripting.
Protein interactions regulating flowering in Arabidopsis (Supervisor: Dr Stephen Jackson, Warwick HRI)
In this 'wet' biology project I used Yeast-II hybridisation to try and identify protein-protein interactions. Through the process I gained a lot of insight into how a biology lab operates and the kinds of things that are possible, as well as gaining experience of standard techniques such as PCR, cell culture, sequencing and agarose gels.
Solid-State NMR as a Structural Probe of Membrane Proteins (Supervisors: Dr Ann Dixon and Dr Steven Brown, Chemistry and Physics)
This biophysical tehcniques project was in the end as much about sample preparation for NMR as NMR itself: purifying crude peptide product using HPLC, checking the purify using Mass Spectrometry tehcniques, and then inserting the peptides into lipid bilayers. We could then use circular dichroism to check the peptides were folded in the correct alpha-helical conformation, and orientated circular dicroism to see if they were in the correct position within the bilayer.