Quantum biology

The first new science of the 21st century, quantum biology offers an opportunity to change the way we see the world. 
Start date
1 October 2018
3 years
Application deadline
Funding information

These 3-year PhD studentships will cover home/EU university tuition fees and a tax-free maintenance grant of up to £14,553 per annum.


The first new science of the 21st century, quantum biology offers an opportunity to change the way we see the world. 

Seeing things differently is at the heart of what we do at the University of Surrey. We think of things not only as they are, but as they could be. If you are considering a doctoral programme, it means that you see things differently too – whether that is envisaging yourself in a new career, growing as a person, or playing a part in changing lives for the better.

Recent research has established that quantum mechanics plays a key role in biological processes such as photosynthesis, respiration, enzyme action, olfaction, bird navigation, mutation, and maybe even the way we think. Quantum biology is the study of these quantum underpinnings of biology, and its advance requires a new generation of scientists who can work across discipline boundaries.

With the support of the Leverhulme Trust, the University of Surrey has established the world’s first truly interdisciplinary Doctoral Training Centre for Quantum Biology headed by acclaimed academics Professor Johnjoe Mcfadden and Professor Jim Al-Khalili.

The University of Surrey invites applications from excellent candidates for seven fully funded PhD studentships, covering fees and maintenance, for October 2018 entry.

These exciting studentship opportunities will span a wide range of subject disciplines, from molecular or synthetic biology to biochemistry, mathematics, nanotechnology and quantum physics. But all students will be expected to work across the disciplines.

At Surrey we have earned a strong reputation for ground-breaking research in the fields of health, medicine, space, the environment and mobile communications. We are currently home to over 1,000 postgraduate researchers, and nearly 450 supervisors, working together across 170+ research areas.

Each researcher has joined us because they are passionate about their subject, want to discover more and have a desire to push the frontiers of knowledge in their area.

Example projects include:

  • How is quantum coherence maintained in biological energy harvesting? 
  • Is quantum tunnelling involved in mutation?
  • How do quantum effects on radical pair reactions manifest at the biological level? 
  • What is the impact of biological noise on quantum coherence?
Further reading

Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology

A quantum mechanical model of adaptive mutations, J. McFadden and J.S. Al-Khalili, BioSystems 50 (1999) 203–211.

Enzyme dynamics and hydrogen tunnelling in a thermophilic alcohol dehydrogenase. Kohen, A., Cannio, R., Bartolucci, S., & Klinman, J. P. (1999). Nature, 399(6735), 496.

Resonance effects indicate a radical-pair mechanism for avian magnetic compass. Ritz, T., Thalau, P., Phillips, J. B., Wiltschko, R., & Wiltschko, W. (2004). Nature, 429(6988), 177.

Atomic description of an enzyme reaction dominated by proton tunneling. Masgrau, L., Roujeinikova, A., Johannissen, L. O., Hothi, P., Basran, J., Ranaghan, K. E., ... & Leys, D. (2006). Science, 312(5771), 237-241.

Evidence for wavelike energy transfer through quantum coherence in photosynthetic systems. Engel, G. S., Calhoun, T. R., Read, E. L., Ahn, T. K., Mančal, T., Cheng, Y. C., ... & Fleming, G. R. (2007). Nature, 446(7137), 782.

Molecular vibration-sensing component in Drosophila melanogaster olfaction. Franco, M. I., Turin, L., Mershin, A., & Skoulakis, E. M. (2011). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(9), 3797-3802.

Environment-induced dephasing versus von Neumann measurements in proton tunneling, A.D. Godbeer, J.S. Al-Khalili, and P.D. Stevenson, Phys. Rev. A 90 (2014) 012102.

Modelling proton tunnelling in the adenine–thymine base pair, AD. Godbeer, J.S. Al-Khalili and P.D. Stevenson, Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys. 17 (2015) 13034-13044.

The origins of quantum biology, J McFadden and J.S. Al-Khalili, submitted to Proc. Royal Soc. A (2018).

Eligibility criteria

Applicants must have at least an A Level in Mathematics or Physics and a BSc in Physics, Biology, Engineering, Mathematics or a related discipline, and a willingness to work across the disciplines. Non-native speakers of English are required to have IELTS 7.0 or above.

How to apply

Applications can be made through our PhD Biosciences and Medicine and PhD Physics course pages. In your application you must mention this studentship in order to be considered.

We recommend that candidates with a biology background should apply for either of projects 1 or 2 and those from a physical science, engineering or mathematics background should apply for either of projects 3 or 4.

Further projects will be discussed at the interview stage.

Candidates may also like to suggest their own projects.

Contact details

For all enquiries regarding studentships please contact the admissions team on:

Department of Physics

The Department of Physics is home to PhD students from around the world, supported by 34 full-time, research-active academic staff. Our PhD research programmes provide opportunities for experimental, theoretical and computational research in both fundamental and applied physics, in subjects such as quantum biology, nuclear and radiation physics, astrophysics, photonics, soft matter, quantum technologies and medical physics. We’re a friendly and engaging academic community, and can offer a wide variety of support, training and social activities.

You’ll have the opportunity to collaborate with scientists around the world, and take advantage of our strategic partnerships with organisations such as the National Physical Laboratory and the Royal Surrey County Hospital. We’re part of the South-East Physics network of nine leading university physics departments (SEPnet), and you’ll become part of its graduate network (GRADnet), the largest postgraduate research school in England. Surrey is now home to the new Leverhulme Quantum Biology Doctoral Training Centre (QB DTC), the world’s first centre dedicated to training interdisciplinary scientists in the field of quantum biology, and will fund up to seven PhD studentships a year in this field.

School of Biosciences and Medicine

Our School of Biosciences and Medicine is home to a vibrant research community and has well-established connections with industry and clinical practice.

Research within the School fully embraces the ‘bench to bedside’ concept, ranging from molecular and computational studies through to clinical trials. We have a strong interdisciplinary set of research sections and centres which interact with each other, other parts of the University, and with external collaborators.

Our research is truly international, with Surrey academics and students coming from around the globe. Many ongoing research projects involve active collaborations with international researchers and institutions.

The University is home to the new Leverhulme Quantum Biology Doctoral Training Centre (QB DTC), the world’s first centre dedicated to training interdisciplinary scientists in the field of quantum biology, and will fund up to seven PhD studentships a year in this field. The University also has a Doctoral College and a vibrant researcher development programme that supports postgraduate research students and other research trainees. We also have careers advisors dedicated to the support of postgraduate research students and research trainees.

Studentships at Surrey

We have a wide range of studentship opportunities available.