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MSc by Research - Animate Materials

Animate materials have the potential to transform the world. They could allow us to create materials that use carbon dioxide to self-repair, clothing that can detect illness and buildings that form part of the ecosystem. Although no truly animate materials have yet been created, these are possible and research within the BSI is at the forefront of this field.

Bio-inspired smart materials already exist, materials such as photo chromic/reactive glass, shape shifting polymers, functional  surfaces for smart phones are already well known and used widely. But animate materials don’t merely mimic living systems, they possess some of their properties. A truly animate material would be active, adaptive e.g. could self-heal, and would even be able to regulate itself autonomously. The huge potential that these new materials offer was illustrated in a recent short video from the Royal Society featuring the BSI's Dr Margarita Staykova (Durham, Physics).

More information about animate materials can be seen in the Royal Society’s 2021 Animate Materials Perspective publication:


Masters by Research - New Projects for 2023

We are excited to offer new Animate Materials projects for the MSc by Research departmental programmes. These projects offers graduate students year-long research opportunities in interdisciplinary biosciences research and are excellent preparation for an interdisciplinary PhD in the life sciences and related research.

Research into animate materials at Durham spans disciplinary boundaries, with projects in this field offered in the Departments of Biosciences, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematical Sciences, Engineering and Computer Science. For more information about the wider research interests of those offering projects please use the links below.


  • Adaptive Nanoscale Porous Catalysts – designing sold catalyst nanomaterials that protect themselves in response to external stimuli such as poisons or from harm of overheating during exothermic reactions by changing porosity
  • Dr Simon Beaumont (Chemistry)
  • Apply through the Department of Chemistry Postgraduate Opportunities pages.  








  • Killer Vesicles - Lipid Vesicles that Kill Cancer Cells
  • Dr Margarita Staykova (Physics)
  • More information available through the Department of Physics How to Apply page.  









How to Apply

  • Expression of interest: via email to Please include the titles of two projects of interest. 
  • Process: through individual departmental processes (see supervisor's Department for further details). 
  • Duration: 12 months [or 24 months part-time].
  • Assessment: Research dissertation.


Programme structure and Duration

The course is a one-year research project (or 24 months part-time) during the course students are encouraged to attend and contribute to research seminars, symposia and workshops. Training in a wide range of transferrable skills is also provided via our Durham Centre for Academic Development, our aligned Centres for Doctoral Training and through our Early Career Researcher group.

Applications are now being accepted for an October 2023 start date. 


How we Support our Postgraduate Students

Mutual respect and support are at the core of how the BSI functions. Masters by Research students are a valued part of our interdisciplinary community, and are encouraged to take part in all of our activities, particularly our Early Career Researcher Group which forms part of our management structure and is designed to give a voice to ECRs.

We offer an enhanced range of opportunities for Masters by Research students to develop as professionals (see list below). In addition to these we offer many wider student experience (WSE) activities, as well as non-credit bearing skills development courses associated with the SOFI and MosMed CDTs. We also run an BSI Early Career Researcher Bursary scheme to provide training and travel bursaries to allow postgraduate students access to funds for external training and conference attendance.

  • Project-specific technical training from the MSc supervisory team.
  • Weekly seminars in the host Departments on a diverse range of topics.
  • Monthly Biophysical Sciences Institute meetings that cover a range presentations and discussions of current research by Institute researchers and visiting guests.
  • Annual Early Career Researcher Symposium (organised by BSI ECR members).
  • Access to skill development courses though DCAD and linked CDTs.


Career Development  

The MSc by research gives graduate students year-long research opportunities, increasing their research skills and independence. They are excellent preparation for an R&D career in industry or an interdisciplinary research PhD and the specialist training provided further develops valuable transferable skills.


Entry Requirements

Academic qualifications: We ask for a minimum of 2:1 BSc (or equivalent) in a related subject.

English Language requirements: For students whose first language is not English or whose first degree was awarded by a University not delivering the courses in English, postgraduate students must demonstrate proficiency in English Language. The University's minimal language requirements for postgraduate studies may be found here.

Fees and Financial Support

General University information on tuition fees and funding for postgraduate research is located here. Specific information on tuition fees for this programme can be found here ("Laboratory Based (PGR)" fees apply). For most projects, basic research costs are met by the supervisor. The student will be liable for costs associated with optional conference attendance and for additional research costs for some projects (to be discussed with potential supervisors).



About the BSI

We support research at the boundaries of the life sciences and other physical sciences including physics, mathematical sciences & computer science. Our research takes a fresh, interdisciplinary approach to fundamental biosciences processes and systems which have real-world applications e.g. in drug discovery or the development of novel materials. Our community is drawn from across scientific disciplinary boundaries and career stages. We are united by a commitment to collaborative research and to fostering a supportive research culture.

Embedded Image: A Research Student in the Wolfson Laboratories. These Biosciences laboratories are embedded in the Department of Chemistry and were established via a 2007 BSI-led Wolfson award (PI: Professors Judith Howard CBE FRS (Chemistry) and Martyn Chamberlain FInstP (Physics)).