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Dr Thomas Blacker
Dr Thomas Blacker profile picture
  • Research Fellow
  • Dept of Physics & Astronomy
  • Faculty of Maths & Physical Sciences

I studied Physics at the University of Exeter, with a year abroad at the University of Sydney, graduating in 2008. I then joined the Centre for Mathematics and Physics in the Life Sciences and Experimental Biology (CoMPLEX) at UCL, completing my PhD "Monitoring cell metabolism with NAD(P)H fluorescence lifetime imaging" (co-supervised by Prof. Michael Duchen and Dr. Angus Bain) in 2013.

I was awarded the Prof. Anne Warner Doctoral Fellowship by CoMPLEX, providing a year's opportunity to further develop my PhD work and apply for external funding. I am co-investigator on the BBSRC grants "In Situ Quantification Of Metabolic Function Using Fluorescence Lifetime Imaging" (2014-2017, BB/L020874/1) and "New Approaches To Studying Redox Metabolism Using Time-Resolved NAD(P)H Fluorescence And Anisotropy" (2017-2020, BB/P018726/1). I am now funded by a BBSRC Discovery Fellowship "Autofluorescence across scales: an integrated understanding of redox cofactors as intrinsic probes of metabolic state" (2022-2025, BB/W009242/1).

Research Summary

My research focuses on the application of advanced fluorescence imaging techniques to the study of the fundamental biological processes that control health and disease.

As a physicist who has spent my research career to date working in both the Departments of Physics & Astronomy (with Dr. Angus Bain) and Cell & Developmental Biology (with Prof. Michael Duchen and Prof. Gyorgy Szabadkai), I believe genuine immersive interdisciplinarity is key to making significant progress in this field.

To this end, I study the underlying photophysics of biologically-relevant fluorophores using time-resolved polarised laser spectroscopy and apply these findings in the study of biochemical processes in living tissues, typically using fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM).

This approach identified the importance of the redox cofactor NADPH in controlling the intrinsic fluorescence decay characteristics of living tissues, a finding subsequently applied in interdisciplinary collaborations, both local and international, to identify contrasting antioxidant roles of different cell types in the mammalian cochlea, to investigate the role of the nicotinamide nucleotide transhydrogenase in heart failure and to probe the link between mitochondrial calcium uniporter expression and breast cancer progression.

Ongoing work is attempting to identify the excited state mechanisms underlying state restriction in fluorescent protein FRET probes in order to allow their correct and accurate application in the study of living cells and tissues, contributing towards the goal of a quantitative understanding of biological systems for the 21st century.

Teaching Summary

I have been a demonstrator in the second year Physics laboratory since 2011 and am enthusiastic about relating the principles taught in this course to the real world of cutting-edge scientific research.

Since 2009, I have taught on the CoMPLEX practical week, giving small groups a day's experience in performing experimental work at the life/physical sciences interface.

I have also supervised a number of extended laboratory projects for students enrolled in courses including MRes Modelling Biological Complexity, MSci Physics and BSc Biomedical Science.

01-JUL-2017 – 01-JUL-2020 Research Associate Physics & Astronomy, Cell & Developmental Biology UCL, United Kingdom
01-JUL-2014 – 01-JUL-2017 Research Associate Cell & Developmental Biology, Physics & Astronomy UCL, United Kingdom
01-APR-2013 – 31-MAR-2014 Prof. Anne Warner Doctoral Fellow CoMPLEX UCL, United Kingdom
Academic Background
2013   Doctor of Philosophy University College London
2009   Master of Research University College London
2008   Master of Physics University of Exeter
    Recognised by the HEA as a Fellow – Biophysical science UCL Arena
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