Name: Dr Raphaël Lévy
Age range: 36
Research institution: University of Liverpool
Research career length: 14 years
Research Council: Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Medical Research Council (MRC)
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Location: Liverpool, England
Brief summary of research: Bionanotechnology, Cell Imaging, Nanoparticles
French science baccalaureate
BSc in Physics at the University of Strasbourg, France
MSc in Soft Condensed Matter Physics at the University of Strasbourg, France
PhD in Physics at the University of Strasbourg, France
2002-2006 Postdoctoral research, University of Liverpool
2006- 2011 BBSRC David Phillips, University of Liverpool
2011- Lecturer, University of Liverpool
We learn that the properties of an object, such as its colour or whether it is solid at room temperature, depend on the material that it is made up of. But researchers like Raphaël Lévy explore how the properties of the tiniest ‘nanoparticles’ of familiar materials, are different, and how they can be used in research and elsewhere.
When you reduce particles to reach very small sizes - called nanoparticles - their properties changes. For example, gold nanoparticles do not have a golden colour at all, instead a suspension of gold nanoparticles in water look like red wine. The aim of my research is to produce and modify nanoparticles and then use their physical properties for biological imaging. We have built a special microscope which allows us to use gold nanoparticles to observe molecules in cells and better understand how these biomolecules move and interact. We think that such new microscopy techniques can help us understand fundamental biological processes at the cellular level. Another area of research in the group is related to stem cells. Stem cells have received a lot of attention for the treatment of many diseases, but to better understand their positive effects and potential risks, it is very important to be able to see where stem cells go after they are injected. This is a difficult technical challenge. To address it, we are working with nanoparticles made of iron oxide (nanomagnets) that could allow imaging of the cells in animal models, and maybe one day in humans, with MRI.
I studied at the University of Strasbourg in France, where I also gained a Master’s in Physics and did a PhD in Physics. I moved to Liverpool for my postdoctoral research. I moved country, and at the same time, I moved discipline: trained as a physicist, I moved into a Biological Sciences department... and my project involved quite a bit of chemistry. After three years, I obtained a BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship , which is awarded to scientists who have demonstrated high potential and who wish to establish themselves as independent researchers. One of the reasons I managed to get this award was my highly interdisciplinary profile: the project put together some novelties in chemistry (synthesis of nanoparticles) and physics (a new microscope) to do some interesting biology. This was also possible thanks to the support of more established colleagues in each of those disciplines. The award lasted for 5 years, paid my salary, the salary of a researcher to work with me for three years, and a significant research support grant to fund my work, including money to build a special microscope. The Fellowship finished in 2011 and the University of Liverpool offered me a Lectureship, i.e. an open ended contract, after the Fellowship.
One of the things I like about my work is its diversity: teaching, supervising research students and young researchers, writing research projects to obtain funding, attending conferences and meeting colleagues from across the world. I am also the institute seminar series coordinator, which means I organise a number of academic meetings throughout the year. In the past few years, I have been a few times to the USA to visit laboratories, attend conferences, establish collaborations, and do experiments. Other recent displacements include Germany, France, Spain, and Singapore.
Another thing I like about my work is the intellectual freedom. I regularly tell my students is that it is important to keep a critical mindset and that it is okay to question theories and experimental findings as this is how we acquire new knowledge.
In addition to work, I am a dad of three children and find some time for dancing Argentine tango, walking and rock climbing..