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3D Camera-based Digital Image Correlation for Tissue Characterisation in Robot-Assisted Surgery

   School of Engineering & Physical Sciences

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  Dr Yuhang Chen, Prof D P Hand  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

About this Project:

Tissue Mechanics Group at School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Heriot-Watt University (Edinburgh, UK) offers a 3.5 years fully-funded PhD studentship for a highly motivated candidate with strong interest in scientific research and applying knowledge in Engineering and Physical Sciences to biomedical and clinical applications. This studentship is co-funded between Heriot-Watt University and CMR Surgical, a medical device company based in Cambridge, UK, specialising in robotic surgery systems, and will be co-supervised by academic and industrial supervisors.

The growing application of robot-assisted surgery has raised the possibility of improved minimally-invasive precision surgery with the help of robotic systems. During the robot-assisted surgery, the surgeon operates, while seated at a console, several robotic ‘arms’ which typically include a camera arm and a few others for surgical instruments. Due to the ‘remote’ nature of the operation, surgeon loses direct sense of tactile feel and often relies on visual cues to determine optimal tissue tension, which is the key to essential surgical tasks such as tissue resection. There is huge scope and opportunity for intra-operative tissue identification, for example distinguishing tissue types and planes, and characterisation of tissue mechanics and tension applied for optimal surgical outcomes.

This PhD project will establish a novel technical framework of 3D camera-based image processing and registration for tissue identification and characterisation in robot-assisted surgery. Using the camera data acquired by the robotic system with a high-definition stereoscopic view of the surgical site, the PhD candidate will develop novel techniques of image processing and registration to reconstruct geometries of the surgical site, in a quasi-real-time fashion, with high levels of accuracy and robustness. Critically, 3D digital image correlation (3D-DIC) method will be developed to map the deformation and strain fields on tissue surfaces using high-resolution video feed from the camera, to help characterise the tissue mechanical behaviours and tension applied. Finally, the results will be fed back to the robotic systems using methods such as image overlay to provide the surgeons with essential information obtained.

The PhD research will be carried out, jointly, between the Tissue Mechanics Group ( and the Applied Optics and Photonics Group ( Working closely with our industrial and clinical partners (CMR Surgical and Western General Hospital, University of Edinburgh), the successful PhD candidate will have the opportunity to develop their career through multidisciplinary research and collaboration and publish their research findings in high impact journals. The PhD candidate will be supervised by a group of academic, clinical and industrial supervisors, and will work with a highly multidisciplinary group of researchers with a range of complementary expertise and lab facilities, to develop academic research skills as well as those for personal and career development, and will have opportunities to be involved in broader research context in medical device design and manufacturing, e.g. MDMC ( The PhD work will be associated with a newly-funded £1.25M EPSRC grant awarded to the supervisory team (''Mechanically-intelligent'' Intra-operative Tissue Assessment for Robot-Assisted Surgery (MIRAS)) and the candidate will have opportunity to interact and collaborate with the industrial and clinical advisors on the project and through the network of research groups.


All applicants should have or expect to have a 1st class undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in mechanical engineering, solid mechanics, materials engineering, biomedical engineering, applied physics or other related disciplines. The ideal candidate should be highly-motivated and have good written and oral communication skills as well as genuine interest in research and publishing your work. Previous experience in MATLAB and/or Python is desired. The project will require both individual and group work therefore effective operation in both environments is essential.

How to apply:

Formal applications must be made through the Heriot-Watt on-line application system: You will need to select ‘Edinburgh’ and ‘Postgraduate Research’ in ‘Mechanical Engineering’ and insert the primary supervisor’s name in the project details. This information will help us in receiving your application. 

Interested candidates are encouraged to email Dr Yuhang Chen (y.chen AT with a copy of your CV and a short personal statement as part of an informal conversation.

Funding Notes

Funding is available for UK or EU students who have settled or pre-settled status in the UK, and international students. Successful candidate will be offered a 3.5 years fully-funded PhD scholarship with standard stipend rate (approx. £17,668 per year). The expected start date will be in summer or autumn 2023. This PhD project is co-funded between Heriot-Watt University and CMR Surgical, therefore the successful candidate will work closely with academic, clinical and industrial supervisors and groups.
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