Personal profile

Research interests

Professor Rory R Duncan (PhD Edinburgh) is a cell biologist and biophysicist, using super-resolution imaging and imaging spectroscopies to address fundamental biological questions particularly in membrane trafficking. His work spans many disciplines and he has publications in leading biology, chemistry, engineering and physics journals as well as holding multiple patents. He is a member of many international funding committees and advisory boards and of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Presently he sits on the STFC Science Board, the principal scientific advisory committee for that research council that provides strategic oversight and guidance on all research activities. He is an award-winning advocate for public engagement with science and art. His research is also translational in nature and he is Director of Edinburgh Biosciences Ltd, a company established to commercialise biophotonic technologies for use in diagnostics and healthcare applications. Rory is married with 3 children.


Professor Rory Duncan works in the field of molecular membrane biology. As part of his independent research programme he established and streamlined the biophysical techniques required to probe the interactions, conformations, dynamics and nano-scale positions of large cohorts of proteins and lipids in living cells, consistently publishing in high-ranking peer-reviewed journals, Duncan joined Heriot-Watt University in November 2010, establishing the Life Science Interface Laboratory at that time with a substantial investment by Heriot-Watt and external funders ( This unique suite of laboratories brings together every live cell, single molecule approach in one place, with substantial input from physicists, mathematicians and engineers to drive both the development of next generation imaging and spectroscopic techniques for the life sciences and also to provide expert image data signal processing essential for modern biomedical science.

This activity led to the formation of the Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering (led by Duncan; in January 2012, which brought together truly interdisciplinary PI Groups with the unifying aim of applying advances in the physical and engineering sciences to address fundamental life science questions and develop novel imaging and data analysis approaches, with current research funding from the Wellcome Trust, the MRC, BBSRC, STFC, EPSRC, NERC, EU FP7, the Royal Society and commercial partners.

Notably, IB3 is central in the formation of the Edinburgh Super-resolution imaging consortium (ESRIC; which has brought together principal investigators from across Heriot Watt, Edinburgh University and across Europe, serving as a platform for knowledge exchange, high quality post-graduate training, interdisciplinary research and funding proposals. ESRIC was funded by the MRC with co-funding from the BBSRC and EPSRC (£2M; Duncan PI) and provides every live cell, super-resolution imaging and spectroscopic technique available, under one roof. 

This strong reputation and skill base in imaging and imaging technology development led to the establishment of an Inter-disciplinary research centre (IRC), between the Universities of Edinburgh, Bath and Heriot-Watt University, with £9.8M of funding from the EPSRC. This IRC is developing novel in vivo imaging and molecular sensing devices for improved rapid diagnostics in acute medicine. Duncan is one of four Heriot-Watt academics involved, bringing live cell fluorescence lifetime imaging expertise.

Duncan currently sits on several international funding committees and advisory panels, providing expert commentary on imaging and imaging infrastructure funding proposals, and is a current member of the STFC Science Board, the principal scientific advisory committee that provides the Science and Technology Facilities Council with a strategic scientific overview and assessment of, and science advice on, all of the programmes STFC supports. 


Roles & Responsibilities

Chair of the School of Engineering & Physical Sciences Athena SWAN Self-assessment Team

External positions

Funding panel member, Canadian Foundation for Innovation

Funding Committee Chair, Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland

STFC Science Board member, Science & Technology Facilities Council

Honorary Professor, University of Edinburgh

Funding committee member, Wellcome Trust

Fingerprint Fingerprint is based on mining the text of the persons scientific documents to create an index of weighted terms, which defines the key subjects of each individual researcher.

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Research Output 1996 2017

  • 1218 Citations
  • 18 h-Index
  • 40 Article
  • 1 Conference contribution
  • 1 Chapter (peer-reviewed)
  • 1 Other

256×256, 100kfps, 61% Fill-factor time-resolved SPAD image sensor for microscopy applications

Gyongy, I., Calder, N., Davies, A., Dutton, N. A. W., Dalgarno, P. A., Duncan, R. R., Rickman, C. & Henderson, R. K. 2 Feb 2017 2016 IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM). IEEE, p. 8.2.1-8.2.4 4 p. (Technical digest)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Avalanche diodes
Image sensors

Bimodal dynamics of granular organelles in primary renin-expressing cells revealed using TIRF microscopy

Buckley, C., Dun, A. R., Peter, A., Bellamy, C., Gross, K. W., Duncan, R. R. & Mullins, J. J. 9 Jan 2017 In : AJP - Renal Physiology . 312, 1, p. F200-F209 10 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Navigation through the Plasma Membrane Molecular Landscape Shapes Random Organelle Movement

Dun, A., Lord, G. J., Wilson, R. S., Kavanagh, D., Cialowicz, K., Sugita, S., Park, S., Yang, L., Smyth, A. M., Papadopulos, A., Rickman, C. & Duncan, R. R. 6 Feb 2017 In : Current Biology. 27, 3, p. 408–414 7 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Organelle Shape
Cell Membrane

Tryptophan and Non-Tryptophan Fluorescence of the Eye Lens Proteins Provides Diagnostics of Cataract at the Molecular Level

Gakamsky, A., Duncan, R. R., Howarth, N. M., Dhillon, B., Buttenschön, K. K., Daly, D. J. & Gakamsky, D. 10 Jan 2017 In : Scientific Reports. 7, 40375

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citations

Automated single particle detection and tracking for large microscopy datasets

Wilson, R. S., Yang, L., Dun, A., Smyth, A. M., Duncan, R. R., Rickman, C. & Lu, W. May 2016 In : Royal Society Open Science. 3, 5, 160225

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle



Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellowship

Rory R. Duncan (Recipient), 2004

Prize: Fellowship awarded competitively

Activities 2012 2016

  • 5 Public lecture
  • 4 Membership of peer review panel
  • 3 Membership of committee
  • 2 Editorial activity

Science, jellyfish, science and art

Duncan, R. (Speaker)
1 Apr 2016

Activity: Public lecture

Journal of Biological Chemistry (Journal)

Duncan, R. (Editorial board member)

Activity: Editorial activity

Science & Technology Facilities Council (External organisation)

Duncan, R. (Member)
2015 → …

Activity: Membership of committee

Wellcome Trust (External organisation)

Duncan, R. (Member)
1 Dec 2015

Activity: Membership of committee

Science, jellyfish, galaxies and art

Duncan, R. (Speaker)
10 Nov 2015

Activity: Public lecture