PhD position -Studying experimental models of the surface of skin with neutrons and numerical models

Context & Job description

The Stratum Corneum (SC) is the outer layer of the skin. It has a mortar-brick structure, the bricks being the keratinized cells (corneocytes) and the mortar a complex assembly of lipids.  Ceramides (CERs) form the major component of the SC lipid matrix. CER molecules contain a sphingosine tail (S-chain) linked to a fatty acid tail (N-chain) via an amide bond. These lipids have very different properties from those found in cell membranes.

As the skin is renewed, the outermost surface becomes a covalently bonded, single monolayer of CER, with possibly addition of fatty acids or cholesterol. It is this outermost layer that will support the hydrolipidic film, or will be exposed to cosmetic treatments.

The aim of this project is to gain a better understanding of the structure of this monolayer, in relation to its composition and surface density, and the evolution of this structure under exposition to various agents. The project combines soft matter techniques for sample preparation and characterization, neutron reflectometry techniques for analyzing in detail the structure, complemented by molecular modeling. While the project will concentrate on model systems using a few CER, some aspects of these models will be confronted to realistic samples at the L’Oréal research facility.

Further information may be obtained from Giovanna Fragneto (tel.: +33 (0) 4 76 20 70 62, email: and from Jean-Louis Barrat (

Expected profile

  • Degree allowing enrolment for a PhD (such as MSc, Master 2 de Recherche, Laurea or equivalent) in biophysics, physical chemistry, biomaterials or closely related science
  • Interest in combining numerical modeling and experimental approaches
  • Proficiency in English (A proof of upper-intermediate level would be advantageous and can be provided in the application. Applicants originating from native-English-speaking countries can apply without the need for proof of level. An official degree conducted in English will be also accepted as a proof; Students without proof upper-intermediate level may still apply and their level of English will be checked during the interview).
  • Compliance with the Marie Sklodowska-Curie mobility rule: candidates may not have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in France for more than twelve months in the three years immediately before the date of recruitment.
  • At the date of recruitment, early-stage researchers must be in the first four years of their research careers and have not yet been awarded a doctoral degree.
  • Candidates must satisfy eligibility criteria according to the partner university requirements for PhD enrolment.

More details about the application procedure on


Working conditions

The successful candidate will be enrolled in the doctoral school of University of Grenoble and based full-time at the ILL (Grenoble, France), other than a 3 month secondment at L’Oréal. Furthermore, a varied pedagogical training programme will be offered to the successful candidate throughout the 3-year PhD project.

More details on the InnovaXN programme on

Company description

InnovaXN is a Horizon 2020 MSCA COFUND programme providing an opportunity for 40 industrial companies to work with 40 PhD students, performing advanced research and exploiting the unique characterisation techniques of the ESRF and ILL. Through collaborations with industry, innovation will be the central theme of the programme. This will provide a unique cross academic-industry science setting, secondment opportunities and society-relevant research, training the future key researchers able to tackle major research and societal challenges.

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