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Mathematics and Statistics

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Dr David Richards

Senior Lecturer

 (Streatham) 7483

 01392 727483


Personal webpage


I am currently an MRC Career Development Fellow and a Turing Fellow based in the Living Systems Institute at the University of Exeter. My research uses a combination of mathematical modelling, computer simulation and experimental work to study various biological and medical processes. This typically involves using a combination of dynamical systems, reaction-diffusion equations, spatio-temporal modelling, numerical simulation, machine learning and image analysis. Currently my group is working on the following projects:

  • Target shape dependence during phagocytosis
  • The multistage nature of phagocytic engulfment
  • Computer simulations of early embryogenesis
  • Machine learning of microglial state
  • Understanding the growth of filamentous fungi
  • The dynamics of peroxisome shape
  • The role of noise in pituitary cells
  • Plant response to phytopathogens

One of the main areas of my research is phagocytosis (the way that our immune cells engulf and destroy relatively large target particles such as bacteria and dead cells). In particular, my group studies how phagocytosis depends on properties of both the immune cell (such as membrane tension) and the target (such as size and shape). This work uses an integrated modelling-experimental approach that couples computational models of membrane shape with dual-micropipette experiments. This has applications to both the design of microparticle drug delivery systems and various medical conditions such as lupus and Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome.


After an undergraduate in physics, I studied for a masters in mathematics (both at the University of Cambridge). My PhD was in string theory and was based at DAMTP in Cambridge. I then spent a year teaching at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in Cape Town, before switching fields to mathematical and computational biology. This included post-docs at the John Innes Centre in Norwich and Imperial College London, before my current position at the University of Exeter.

Possible PhD projects

Some examples of possible PhD project ideas:

  • Simulations of early embryogenesis
  • Mathematical modelling of cell shape across organisms
  • Models of engulfment during phagocytosis
  • Simulations of the dynamics of peroxisome shape
  • Quantitative understanding of the plant response to fungal attack
  • Machine learning to identify microglial state
  • Image analysis of filamentous fungi


My group currently includes:

  • Jim Lees - MRC-funded Postdoctoral Research Fellow - working on "The Fundamentals of Phagocytosis: Integrating Theoretical Models and Experiments"
  • Jordan Hembrow - PhD student - working on "Mathematical modelling of phytopathogen-targeted secretion pathways"
  • Peyman Shadmani - PhD student - working on "Models of cell shape during phagocytosis"
  • Alaina Cockerell - PhD student - working on "Simulation of human blastocyst development"
  • Sophie Nye - PhD student - working on understanding and modelling fungal growth
  • Amber Connerton - PhD student - working on "The role of Rho GTPases in plant immunity"
  • Victoria Armer - PhD student - working on "Exploring communication mechanisms between fungal pathogens and plant cells"
  • Ifeoma Nwabufo - Master's student - working on a machine learning approach to identifying microglial state


I am funded by the MRC as a Career Development Fellow. My group is also supported by BBSRC and the Wellcome Trust.

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