PhD position in physics of cancer development



Studies over the last few decades have revealed cancer to be a frightfully complex disease. Most recently it was shown that the cells within a single tumor are strongly different from each other. This heterogeneity is a major stumbling block for drug therapies, which typically target only specific cells. Its origin is currently unclear. An exciting new school of thought tries to understand it in terms of spontaneous symmetry breaking at a phase transition from normal to cancerous growth. The PhD project offered here will investigate this new paradigm using quantitative measurements in a fully controlled laboratory model of tumor development.


Key responsibilities

You will build a novel imaging platform, based on a selective plane imaging microscope, which will allow you to measure, for the first time, the molecular identity of individual cells throughout intact tumors. By single-cell transcriptomics you will identify the most variable genes. Using fluorescent reporter cell lines, you will study collective migration as a precursor of metastasis. You will develop algorithms to analyze the complex sequencing and imaging data and mathematical models to understand the observed phenomena.


Selection criteria

  • You have a master’s degree in physics, biophysics or a related degree
  • You have experience with optics and microscopy and show a strong interest in experimental quantitative biology
  • You have experience with programming (e.g. Matlab, Python, C/C++, R), data analysis and mathematical modeling
  • You are interested in learning (or have experience with) cell culture and basic molecular biology techniques (cloning, transfection, PCR etc.)
  • You are proficient in spoken and written English, and have good communication and writing skills
  • You are independent, creative and have team spirit


Research at our department

Our lab is part of the Leiden Institute of Physics ( and situated at the Leiden Cell Observatory ( The Cell Observatory is a highly collaborative community dedicated to the visualization and understanding of the fundamental molecular mechanisms of life, which is part of the core scientific profile of Leiden University. The Cell Observatory houses state-of-the-art bio-imaging facilities shared among the member labs, which actively develop new methods for the quantitative measurement of single-cell properties.




More information about our lab can be found at

Enquiries can be made to Dr. Stefan Semrau  (semrau[at]physics[dot]leidenuniv[dot]nl). Information about the Faculty of Science can be found at and about Leiden University at



To apply for this vacancy, please send an email to Dr. Stefan Semrau  ( Please include your curriculum vitae, a letter of motivation and the names of 3 potential references.