EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training
in Molecular-Scale Engineering
a Centre for Nanotechnology
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Chris Taylor

I completed a four-year MChem course at The University of Sheffield in 2012, with a master’s project in organic synthesis chemistry. The project looked at optimizing synthetic routes to a modified amino acid base upon glutamic acid. My scientific interest has always been in molecular biology but from a chemical point of view and for this reason I chose a straight chemistry degree.

Previous lab experience
Chemistry degree in Sheffield is well balanced between lab-based and lecture-based work. The first three years had around two days a week in undergraduate labs teaching a range of basic techniques. The fourth year has a full time research project within a research group.

I also gained a Nuffield Bursary to perform a summer research project in optimizing an aromatic ring formation reaction to produce an indole with an attached boron group. This is a powerful intermediate for producing many drugs and products from the Suzuki cross coupling reaction. This was my first experience in a working research group and confirmed that I wanted to partake in a PhD research project.

What attracted me to the CDT in Molecular-Scale Engineering
After looking at many different potential projects I was unsure which I want to do. The CDT offered two benefits for me; firstly that you can try out three projects before deciding which you prefer, secondly these projects are all interdisciplinary allowing me to apply my chemistry to biological and physical projects allowing me to pursue my main interest in molecular biology from a chemical point of view.

Current research
My current rotation project is looking at the mechanical strength of proteins from extremophiles. I am pulling apart a polyprotein on a custom built AFM. The polyprotein is an alternating pattern of reference protein and a cold shock protein from a hyperthermophillic bacteria (lives at 78 °C). The information gain about the force to unfold these proteins gives insights into the kinetics and thermodynamics of protein structures.

Advantages of an integrated PhD over a conventional PhD
The integrated PhD teaches us skills and knowledge in areas of science, which we have not previously covered. This helps us adapt to the interdisciplinary nature of our projects. The interdisciplinary nature of the course gives you the opportunity to work between scientific fields that then allow multiple approaches to the same problem. Many scientific challenges from the real word do not fit into any single field so easier to overcome problems with a interdisciplinary approach.

The most enjoyable aspects so far
I really enjoyed the week we tried out computational modeling. This is something I believed to be difficult. Having the chance to learn some of the basics and model a ten base DNA sample in a vacuum was very satisfying.

The most challenging aspects
Researching a biophysical project, an area that is completely new to me.

What would you say to others students interested in joining the CDT?
The CDT gives you freedom to choose the correct project that will benefit you the most.