Imperial College London

Spin Your Thesis!


Team Twistosity: from left to right Emma Woodcock, Paul Girvan and Julia Eckert

Team Twistosity: from left to right Emma Woodcock, Paul Girvan and Julia Eckert

'Twistosity' awarded experimental time by the European Space Agency.

A team of students led by Emma Woodcock (Institute of Chemical Biology, Department of Chemistry, Imperial) in collaboration with Dr Marina Kuimova and Dr Nick Brooks will travel to The Large Diameter Centrifuge (LDC) run by the European Space Agency (ESA), to measure the viscosity of live biological cells under hypergravity conditions.

The team, ‘Twistosity’, competitively won 1 week of experimental time at the LDC as part of the ‘Spin Your Thesis!’ programme run by the ESA Education Office. The multidisciplinary team comprises Emma, Julia Eckert (Department of Physics, Technische Universität Dresden) and Paul Girvan (National Heart and Lung Institute and Department of Chemistry, Imperial).

‘Spin your Thesis!’ offers university students the opportunity to perform scientific or technological research using the LDC to conduct research in hypergravity conditions. The programme accepts proposals from bachelor, master and PhD students for experiments in the LDC, a facility which would not usually be accessible to them. The successful teams are selected for scientific and technological merit by a team of scientists and experts in that field.

Twistosity’s biological experiment performed under hypergravity will see them set up a microscope placed in one of the gondolas of a massive centrifuge. Read the team’s abstract proposal to find out more information about their experiment:

Sensing gravity by live biological cells is a puzzling phenomenon, given their small dimentions. However, a large body of evidence exists that demonstrates that even non-specialized cells are affected by gravity. We hypothesise that one of the mechanisms for this sensitivity is by changing the viscosity of the intracellular organelles. We will utilise an emerging method for imaging cellular viscosity based on fluorescence detection from so called 'molecular rotors', to sense the response of cellular viscosity to conditions of hypergravity using a fluorescence microscope housed in one of the gondolas at the LDC. We will test a number of cell incubation conditions and, if time permits, a number of 'molecular rotors' and cell lines, to obtain detailed organelle specific information on the response of cellular viscosity to gravity. These experiments, if successful, will produce the first quantitative study of changing viscosity under hypergravity conditions and as such will lay the firm foundation for mechanobiological research under unusual gravity conditions.

Find out more about the Spin Your Thesis! programme


Claudia Cannon

Claudia Cannon
Faculty of Natural Sciences