Highly efficient photons detection in retina

This project aims to translate understanding of nature’s exceptionally efficient phototransduction processes in animal retinas to synthetic photo-systems, leading to bio-compatible devices, such as artificial retinas, which do not require external wiring and are capable of restoring lost vision in humans.   

Start date
1 October 2020
3 years
Application deadline
Funding source
Leverhulme Trust and University of Surrey
Funding information

The studentship fully covers all academic fees with a stipend of £15,285 per annum for UK/EU students.

Funding for future years will be subjected to the UKRI increase


Retina cells demonstrate the amazing capability of single-photon detection, pointing at the ability of biological photoreceptors to exhibit quantum mechanical properties at room temperature and normal atmospheric pressure, in a rather ‘noisy’ biological environment.  In the human retina, photo transduction is an enormously efficient process, involving multi-wavelength photon absorption by rods and cones and signal transfer to ganglion cells towards the optical nerve.  A number of quantum processes have been suggested as possible mechanisms, contributing to the remarkable speed and efficiency of photoisomerization and subsequent signal transduction, including quantum coherence, superposition and tunnelling in retina cells. Mimicking these processes with bio-compatible, synthetic organic molecular systems will provide pathways for a deeper understanding of these processes, as well as paving the way towards both bio-medical vision restoration devices and single-photon bio-detectors operating at room temperature.

The research will use the commercially available retinal molecule as a model photo-sensitive compound, as well as synthetic analogues of different (poly-ene) chain lengths, and polymer nanoparticles, for studies of their photoresponses in simulated bio-environments, and the influence of such environments, through torsional confirmations and nano-confinement, on the shift of peak absorption wavelength of chromophores to match that of human eye rods and cones.  The phototransduction effect of human eye retina cell photoresponsive receptor proteins rhodopsins (rods) and iodopsins (cones) bound to retinal will be mimicked by using the photosensitive conjugated molecules in a gel-electrolyte environment, and surface bound to membranes, to induce depolarisation effects to stimulate retina neuron depolarisation.  The construction of a full-colour response prosthetic retina ultra-flexible device assembly will be attempted to investigate the feasibility of vision restoration.  The study will also suggest strategies for the fabrication of single-photon bio-inspired molecular detectors.

Related links
Maxim Shkunov Carol Lane Leverhulme Quantum Biology Doctoral Training Centre

Eligibility criteria

Applicants must have a BSc/Masters and strong background in either of the disciplines: Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Physics, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Biotechnology, Functional Materials, Condensed Matter, Materials Science, Optical Physics, Organic Chemistry, Experimental Neuroscience, Applied Medical Physics.

Applicants should also show a deep interest in interdisciplinary research, excellent practical and analytical skills and an excellent aptitude for research.

Only UK and EU students will be funded, overseas students will need to source their own funding.

English language requirements: IELTS overall score of 6.5 or above with a minimum of 6.0 in each component (or equivalent).

How to apply

To apply for this studentship:

  1. Firstly apply for the Quantum Biology PhD.  
  2. During your application, please mention your desire to apply to this studentship in order to be considered.  
  3. When the system asks you to add your ‘Research Project’ please copy and paste the project description of the project you wish to apply for.

Application deadline

Contact details

Maxim Shkunov
15 ATI 02
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 686082
E-mail: M.Shkunov@surrey.ac.uk

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