Research Associate (3 August 2020)

We are recruiting a postdoctoral researcher who will focus on a BBSRC-funded project to construct a microscope of such great sensitivity that it can image dynamic molecular binding and assembly in unlabelled living cells. This position is not yet open for applications but informal enquiries can be directed to Professor Gail McConnell ( It is expected that the position will be advertised in autumn 2020 for a start in early 2021.

Surface plasmon resonance (SPR) is one of the most sensitive binding assay methods known. It is often used to measure antibodies in solution against a monolayer of antigen molecules, giving measurable indications of changes in concentration of the order of 10 pg/ml without labelling. The commonest apparatus is the Kretschmann-Raether prism configuration in which p-polarized light is directed through a prism of high-refractive index glass and undergoes internal reflection in a thin metallic film. The biological material in aqueous solution contacts the gold and alters its reflectivity through the effect of specimen mass concentration on surface plasmons in the metal. As well as fluid assay, SPR has also been used for functional imaging of intact cells. However, because of optical limitations, the spatial resolution of these techniques is poor, even when high numerical aperture objective lenses are used.

We propose here a new approach that uses a combination of a standing wave and fluorescence for high-resolution SPR imaging of intact living cells. We will use a basic physics principle that fluorescence cannot occur at the mirror surface. In regions of the metal film where SPR occurs it ceases to be a mirror and fluorescent emission is released and fills the aperture of a high aperture lens. We will adopt this approach and use fluorescence as a proxy for SPR, allowing high spatial resolution label-free SPR imaging in living cells, potentially at high speed. Because we can use the full aperture of the lens for detection, we call this technique Full-Aperture Surface Plasmon Resonance Imaging (FASPRI). We will create the metal-fluorescent layers on glass coverslips, test their performance on a non-imaging optical bench rig, then we will incorporate this into an existing microscope equipped with a high speed sCMOS camera. We will perform FASPRI of algal and mammalian cells to prove principle and evaluate the trade-off between sensitivity and imaging speed.

As a Research Associate, under the general guidance of Professor Gail McConnell, you will work directly on this project to deliver on all aspects. As well as undertaking the scientific experiments, specifically the instrument development, characterisation and application, you will write up research work for publication, individually or in collaboration with colleagues, and disseminate the results via peer reviewed journal publications and presentation at conferences. Where appropriate you will join external networks to share information and ideas, inform the development of research objectives and to identify potential sources of funding. You will collaborate with colleagues to ensure that research advances inform departmental teaching effort and you will collaborate with colleagues on the development of knowledge exchange activities by, for example, participating in initiatives which establish research links with industry and influence public policy and the professions. You will help to supervise student projects and provide advice to students within Professor McConnell’s research group. You will contribute in a developing capacity to Department/School, Faculty and/or University administrative and management functions and committees and engage in continuous professional development.

To be considered for the role, you will be educated to a minimum of PhD level in an appropriate discipline, or have significant relevant experience in addition to a relevant degree. You will have sufficient breadth or depth of knowledge in optical physics, thin films and microscopy and a developing ability to conduct individual research work, to disseminate results and to prepare research proposals. You will have an ability to plan and organise your own workload effectively and an ability to work within a team environment. You will have excellent interpersonal and communication skills, with the ability to listen, engage and persuade, and to present complex information in an accessible way to a range of audiences.

Whilst not essential for the role, applications are welcomed from candidates with: relevant work experience, membership of relevant Chartered/professional bodies (including the Higher Education Academy), experience of relevant student supervision and teaching activities, and/or experience of knowledge exchange related activities.