School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences PhD Scholarships

Launch your research career with a grant-aligned priority PhD scholarship

The School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences (SCMB) at The University of Queensland is a diverse and powerful research grouping with unique expertise in the chemical and molecular life sciences. SCMB's biomolecular research spans small synthetic molecules through to proteins, nucleic acids, viruses and microorganisms, and our materials research encompasses the design and synthesis of molecular devices, functional polymers and nanomaterials.

With an annual research income of $14.3 million, SCMB is recognised internationally for its research strengths, output and demonstrated translation of discovery and technology. SCMB's impact is testament to the breadth of its expertise, collaborative nature of its academics and strength of its partnerships.

SCMB has a number of Commonweath Government funded PhD scholarships currently available.These scholarships are aligned with significant, recently awarded research grants that are held by academic staff members within the school. Full details including terms and conditions relating to these scholarships is available on the UQ Scholarships website. These scholarships are also bound by UQ's Policy.

Scholarship value

Successful applicants will be awarded a scholarship package comprising a base stipend of AU$27,596 per annum (2019 rate), indexed annually, for three years with two possible six month extensions in approved circumstances, tuition fees and Overseas Student Health Cover where applicable.

How to apply

Application and commencement

 Applications should be received by 30 April for commencement in Research Quarter 3 (July) or Research Quarter 4 (October) 2019. These scholarships are open to domestic and international applicants. International applicants should note that commencement in Research Quarter 4 is more realistic due to processing and visa requirements.

Available projects

Chief Investigator Project title Project description Preferred educational background

Professor Zhiping XuProfessor Bernard CarrollProfessor Neena Mitter

Clay nanoparticle-facilitated RNAi for non-transgenic modification of crops This project will investigate the topical delivery of large dsRNA and siRNA to plant cells using a clay nanoparticle as the vehicle to identify whether topically applied large dsRNA or small interfering RNA is more efficient in inducing silencing of plant genes. The long term aim is to induce systemic silencing of plant genes for trait modification and enhanced crop productivity. Masters in Biotechnology or Molecular Biology, experience required in Arabidopsis genetics, florescent protein imaging in plants including confocal microscopy, small RNA gel blot analysis in plants, growing Arabidopsis in soil and in axenic culture, grafting Arabidopsis, PCR genotyping of plants, construction of Agrobacterium binary vectors & transformation of Arabidopsis, sound knowledge of RNA interference (RNAi) pathways in Arabidopsis


Dr Rochelle Soo

Exploring the evolution and ecology of non-photosynthetic Cyanobacteria The dogma that all Cyanobacteria are photosynthetic has recently been challenged by the discovery of non-photosynthetic lineages. This project should expand our rudimentary understanding of non-photosynthetic Cyanobacteria by obtaining representative genome sequences using metagenomics and culturing. Predicted surface structures will be visualised using immuno-DNA labelling and electron microscopy. The proposed research should provide insights into the function and evolution of non-photosynthetic Cyanobacteria and their viruses, and pure or enriched cultures to enable future studies. Honours in Microbiology, Biochemistry or related disciplines.

Associate Professor Ulrike Kappler

Responses of respiratory pathogens to host-generated antimicrobial compounds

The human innate immune response to infection leads to the generation of a variety of highly reactive antimicrobial agents which include hypochlorite (HOCl). HOCl causes oxidative damage to sulfur-containing molecules such as amino acids, as well as lipids and DNA, and can also give rise to derivative antimicrobials such as N-Chlorotaurine that can cause further damage.

This project will target mechanisms by which respiratory pathogens such as Haemophilus influenzae are able to evade the effects of HOCl and derivative antimicrobials by exploring HOCL-induced changes in cellular physiology as part of a larger research program exploring interactions between H. influenzae and the human host.

Applicants must hold a 1st class Honours or Masters degree (or equivalent) in microbiology or biochemistry

Associate Professr Nick West

Blocking TB Latency: The Key to Reducing Therapy Duration To assess the contribution of specific genetic regulators in the TB bacterium and how they cause disease. Project will examine the host cellular response to TB. Candidates should have an Honours or Masters (or equivalent) degree in microbiology/cell biology.

Dr Rachel Stephenson

Developing an effective vaccine against Group A Streptococcus Globally Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have the highest recorded rate of Group A Streptococcus (GAS) infection, mainly rheumatic heart disease and rheumatic fever. GAS infection is endemic and often fatal due to post-infection problems. This project aims to develop a glycoconjugate vaccine to prevent GAS infection. We aim to avert these deaths by making a vaccine from small, specific parts of GAS proteins so the body makes safe antibodies that stop GAS and its related diseases. BSc Honours or Masters (or equivalent) in Medicinal chemistry or related discipline.

Associate Professor Shih-Chun Lo

Development of functional organic materials for opto-electronics

To develop (synthesise and characterize) functional organic materials (including organometallics) for opto-electronics (e.g., organic light-emitting diodes and photodetectors).

Should possess a BSc Hons (1st class or equivalent in chemistry) or MSc, or equivalent, majoring in a relevant discipline (e.g. chemistry or materials chemistry).

Professor Paul Bernhardt

Molybdenum enzyme electrochemical communication This project aims to understand the activity of three novel, but related, molybdenum enzymes, human mARC and its bacterial homologs YcbX and YiiM. The role of mARC in humans remains unknown twelve years after its discovery. All three enzymes catalyse the reduction of potentially harmful N-hydroxylated compounds and there is interest in this area from the perspective of drug design. This project will apply an electrochemical methodology to rapidly identify enzyme substrates and inhibitors. Molybdenum enzymes pervade all life forms and the outcomes of this research include a unified understanding of an emerging enzyme class involved in drug metabolism. Should possess a BSc Hons, or equivalent, majoring in chemistry. Experience in electrochemical methods and evidence of peer reviewed publications will be an advantage.

Professor Mark Walker

Deploying next-generation adjuvants to enhance protection of a group A streptococcal vaccine candidate Group A Streptococcus causes 520,000 deaths each year. A safe and effective vaccine is not commercially available. We have identified new protective candidate antigens and seek to undertake critical studies that will lead to the development of a safe and effective group A streptococcal vaccine for human use. Applicants should have a BSc Hons (or equivalent) in microbiology, immunology, molecular biology or related discipline.

Professor Michael Monteiro

Precision-built dynamic and functional polymer vesicles The research in this project will provide significant new knowledge in the fundamental chemical synthesis of polymer vesicles, their physical and functional capabilities, and the ability to manipulate the fine structure on the nanoscale to mimic some key dynamic features used by the cell. The proposed new artificial polymer vesicles will impact the field of chemistry through the synthesis of new dynamic and responsive polymer nano-vesicles. Candidates should have a first class BSc Hons (or equivalent), majoring in chemistry, materials science, or related discipline.

Dr Daniel Watterson

Structural insights into the flavivirus NS1 protein. This project aims to generate new broad-spectrum human antibodies as potential therapies for both dengue and Zika virus infections. Using a combination of state of the art structural biology techniques together with preclinical disease models, this project will identify key regions within the NS1 protein that drive pathogenesis. Critical epitopes will then be targeted using a phage display human antibody library to generate next-generation biological therapeutics to combat these important human pathogens. Candidates should have a BSc Hons (or equivalent), majoring in a relevant discipline (virology, immunology, molecular or structural biology). One or more peer reviewed publication, prior experience with molecular cloning and protein expression/purification. Working with either murine models or structural biology techniques (electron microscopy / x-ray crystallography) would be ideal.
Structure of pathogenic flaviviruses by cryo-EM Advances in cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) make it now possible to solve the 3D structure of a virus particle within the timeframe of an outbreak, offering the potential to rapidly develop new vaccines and therapies against emerging viral pathogens. The major limits to structural determination now lie in virus isolation, safe lab handling and propagation. This project will overcome these issues using a new chimeric flavivirus technology that allows the production of virus particles that resemble the pathogenic viruses from which they were constructed, but are safe for human handling. This project will use this platform to reveal the structure of several unsolved and highly pathogenic flaviviruses by cryo-EM, providing a rational basis for the development of viral countermeasures. Candidates should have a BSc Hons (or equivalent), majoring in a relevant discipline (virology, molecular and structural biology).   One or more peer reviewed publication, prior experience with molecular cloning and protein expression/purification.  Knowledge and any practical experience with structural biology techniques (electron microscopy / x-ray crystallography) would be ideal.

Dr Kate Stacey

Toll-like receptor 4 signalling in the pathology of dengue virus infection

Mosquito-borne dengue virus is a major health threat in tropical areas. We found that the virus causes pathology in a similar manner to some bacterial infections via a cell surface receptor called TLR4. We have used drugs to block TLR4 and this greatly reduced disease severity in a mouse model of infection. This project further investigates the mechanism of action of TLR4 in dengue pathology, and aims to explore TLR4 antagonists as a therapy to help reduce the severity of dengue disease and need for hospitalisation.

Candidates should have an Honours or Masters (or equivalent) degree in biochemistry, molecular biology, virology, microbiology or immunology.

Professor Liz Gillam


Professor Ben Hankamer


Solar-Driven Biocatalysis: Development of Cytochrome P450 Enzyme Systems for Pharmaceutical Synthesis in Microalgae’ The project will involve the development of microalgal systems for using cytochrome P450 enzymes as biocatalysts in the pharmaceutical industry. The research is aimed at gaining a fundamental understanding of the way in which P450 catalysis can be supported by photosynthesis as well as how such systems can be customised for industrial application. The research is supported by an industry-funded collaboration and will involve frequent interactions with the industry partner. Candidates should have an Honours or Masters degree in Biochemistry, Chemistry, Biotechnology or Plant Molecular Biology. Advanced undergraduate training in biological chemistry and/or enzymology is strongly preferred. Skills in HPLC analysis of small molecules, demonstrated expertise in working with redox biochemistry, cytochrome P450 enzymes and/or microalgae, and industrial research experience are highly desirable

Associate Professor Jack Clegg

Flexible Molecular Crystals: Single Crystals that Bend, Stretch and Twist

Single crystals are typically brittle, inelastic materials that crack, shatter or deform irreversibly when they are struck or bent. Such mechanical responses limit the use of these materials in new applications like flexible electronics and optical devices. Crystals that can be reversibly and repeatedly bent - characteristics normally associated with soft matter - would be extremely attractive for a host of engineering applications that require materials with properties that can be tuned through external stimuli. We have recently discovered a series of materials that possess the characteristics of both crystallinity and significant flexibility including single crystals of a metal-organic complex that exhibit sufficient elastic flexibility that they can be tied in a knot. This project will develop and apply molecular design principles to produce new metal-organic crystals that display elastic flexibility and use this flexibility to tune the physical properties of these materials. The project will involve a mixture of coordination chemistry, crystallography and materials science.

Hons Class 1 in Inorganic Chemistry and/or Materials Science

Dr Philip Stevenson

Vaccination against herpesviruses

Herpesviruses establish persistent, systemic infections that cause considerable disease. Vaccines are needed, but have proved hard to design as the immunological correlates of protection are poorly understood. So far the only successful vaccines have been live attenuated viruses. Delivering these depends on understanding how individual viral gene products contribute to systemic infection and disease, so they can be removed from vaccine viruses to ensure safety without compromising immunogenicity. Also it is necessary to understand which steps in host colonization are amenable to immune control. Mechanisms have to be worked out in animal models. We are using Murid Herpesvirus-4 and Murine Cytomegalovirus to understand gamma-herpesvirus and beta-herpesvirus pathogenesis and immune control, and to develop new vaccine approaches that can be translated to the equivalent human pathogens.

Applicants should have a BSc Hons or equivalent in virology, immunology, or a related discipline.

Dissemination of cytomegaloviruses

Cytomegaloviruses establish chronic infections of myeloid cells. We have shown that infected myeloid cells are driven to recirculate by a viral take over of host chemokine receptor signaling. Dendritic cells infected by murine cytomegalovirus follow a novel route, entering the blood from lymph nodes via high endothelial venules before extravasating into new tissues. This has important implications for our understanding of both cytomegalovirus infections and normal innate immune function. The project will analyse targeted mutant viruses in vivo and work towards a new understanding of how chemokine receptor signals drive dendritic cell function.

Applicants should have a BSc Hons or equivalent in virology, immunology, or a related discipline.