The Physics of Shift Work


This project will investigate how shiftwork affects sleep and cognitive performance and what strategies can be used to optimize shiftworkers’ wellbeing.


Dr Svetlana Postnova

Research Location

School of Physics

Program Type



Every cell and every organ in our body has circadian (~24 hour) clocks – the dynamic oscillators that control timing of biological processes. The oscillators in the different organs and cells are coupled to each other and their phases are continuously adjusted by environmental time cues, such as light, meals and exercise. In healthy state these clocks and the environment are synchronized. Their desynchrony, in the short-term leads to disturbances of sleep, alertness, metabolic and immune functions, while in the long-term it is linked to disease development, including obesity, diabetes, mental disorders, and cancer. Modern lifestyles put pressure on our body clocks with artificial lighting, daylight saving time, around the clock work hours, and transmeridian travel all causing different degrees of circadian desynchrony. 

This project will address the circadian desynchrony caused by irregular work hours, i.e., shiftwork, which is experienced by 20% of the Australian workforce. Shiftwork increases the risk of accidents by 60%, and bio-mathematical modelling is often used to assess risk of specific shift schedules. This project will use bio-mathematical modelling to investigate the neurobiological dynamics developing due to shiftwork of different types and develop strategies to minimize the risks.

Additional Information

Candidates will require quantitative background, e.g., physics, mathematics, engineering, computer science and interest in biological systems. 

HDR Inherent Requirements  

In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include:   

  • Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
  • Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
  • Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision; 
  • Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);  
  • Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;  
  • Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);  
  • Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;  
  • Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);  
  • Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;  
  • Hold a current scuba diving license;  
  • Hold a current Working with Children Check;  
  • Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)   

You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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Biophysical modelling, computational biology, brain dynamics, dynamical systems, complex systems, Shiftwork, body clocks, Sleep, Alertness, fatigue

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 2733

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