Faculty of Science

Magnetoreception: Characterising the cellular basis of the magnetic sense in animals

The anatomical location, cellular structure and function of the magnetic sense in animals remains a fundamental unanswered question in biology.

  1. Summary of the project
  2. Eligibility criteria
  3. Readings
  4. Contact the research team leader
  5. How to apply
  6. Scholarships

Summary of the project

Many organisms are now known to utilise the Earth’s magnetic field to orientate themselves and navigate their surroundings. Although this magnetic sense is well described through behavioural studies, to date, the cellular basis of magnetoreception remains undiscovered and undescribed. Magnetic nanoparticles of iron are thought to play a role in this magnetic sense; however, the location, structure and function of these particles with respect to the nervous system remain open for study (Winklhofer, 2010).

Microscopic characterisation is a key tool for investigating putative magnetoreceptor cells. More specifically, the resolving power of electron microscopic techniques, and their ability to detect and map elemental distributions at the ultrastructural level, have been highly underutilised in this field (Kirschvink et al., 2001).

The Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis houses the necessary instrumentation and expertise to conduct this study, but it should be noted that no single technique will be sufficient for addressing this problem and a multimodal and multidisciplinary approach is required.       

Prospective students would have the opportunity to explore a range of microscopic and magnetic based approaches in their research, working with a collaborative group including experts in honeybee biology, microbiology, biomagnetics, neurobiology and microscopy.

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Eligibility criteria

General UWA PhD entrance requirements can be found on the Future Students website.

For this project students should have backgrounds in any of the following areas:

  • Animal Biology/Zoology
  • Biophysics
  • Microscopy

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Contact the research team leader

Once you have ensured that you meet the eligibility criteria and are ready to discuss a proposal, contact the research team leader to identify a potential supervisor.
Research team leader: Dr Jeremy Shaw
I am an ARC DECRA Fellow focusing on the use of cutting-edge optical, electron and X-ray microscopy techniques to explore animal magnetoreception and iron biomineralisation. My research is now centred on the use of the honeybee Apis mellifera as a model system to search for magnetoreceptive cells and uses multimodal techniques for studying the fine structure of iron biominerals in a range of other animal systems.

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How to apply

After you have discussed your project with the research team leader you should be in a position to proceed to step two of the UWA application process: 'Lodge an application'.

Different procedures apply to domestic and international students.

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Domestic students

All domestic students may apply for Research Training Program and University Postgraduate Awards (UPA) scholarships.

The Australian Government's Endeavour Awards and Scholarships are available to Australian applicants for study in participating countries and regions.

International students

A range of scholarships are available from international organisations and governments. The full list, organised by country, is available on the Future Students website.

In addition, all international students may apply for International Research Training Program scholarships.

The Australian Government's Endeavour Awards and Scholarships are available to international applicants from participating countries and regions.

Indigenous students

Indigenous students are encouraged to apply for Indigenous Postgraduate Research Supplementary Scholarships.

Forrest Foundation scholarships

All international and Australian students who wish to study towards the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at The University of Western Australia may apply for Forrest Scholarships.

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