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  A chemical engine to produce mechanical force: towards a physio-chemical model of heart cells

   Department of Biomedical Engineering

  , ,  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Living systems are complex, and are based on the basic building blocks of genes, proteins, chemical reactions, and physical forces. Yet, out of this complexity, with remarkable robustness and precision, cells orchestrate the cooperative action of thousands of specific molecular reactions and interactions to carry out mechanical tasks. For example, 100 billion heart cells can synchronise their oscillation to generate a single pulse. To understand the fundamental principles that govern cooperative processes in living systems, it is of critical importance to develop an understanding of the underlying physio-chemical processes, because living systems are also subject to laws in physical systems. Such inherently non-equilibrium processes suggest approaches for developing biomimetic active materials which can transform chemical energy to mechanical energy.

The aim of this project is to understand the fundamental mechanism of how a chemical reaction can produce mechanical force, and develop a physio-chemical model to study the synchronisation of mechanical forces in relevant biological systems.

The project will involve preparing chemically-active hydrogels which can swell and “de-swell” like a heart cell in a reactant solution, and we will study how those hydrogel beads can be in ‘sync’ chemically and mechanically to produce a larger force like that produced by a whole heart.


Objectives include:

1. Perform physical chemical experiments with the self-oscillating gel beads immersed in an electrolyte solution, and characterise the synchronisation dynamics in terms of amplitude and frequency of the individual gel beads.


2. Develop a physio-chemical model of relevant biological systems.  We will develop electronically-integrated systems (hydrogels controlled by electric stimulation) to convert chemical oscillation to mechanical oscillation under control. For practical application,  we will develop smart biomimetic gels for fluid transportation mimicking blood flows in hearts.

To bridge the gap in understanding between non-living and living systems, Dr. Hayashi’s research group is interested in physics of complex systems in non-living and living systems, and revealing nonlinear dynamics governing adaptation behaviour in changing environments. The aim is to reveal how the self-organisation of the closed loop system interacting with environment gives rise to rhythmic or chaotic patterns, serving certain functions to survive as a whole creature.

Lab home page:


School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading:

The University of Reading, located west of London, England, provides world-class research education programs. The University’s main Whiteknights Campus is set in 130 hectares of beautiful parkland, a 30-minute train ride to central London and 40 minutes from London Heathrow airport. 

Our School of Biological Sciences conducts high-impact research, tackling current global challenges faced by society and the planet. Our research ranges from understanding and improving human health and combating disease, through to understanding evolutionary processes and uncovering new ways to protect the natural world. In 2020, we moved into a stunning new ~£60 million Health & Life Sciences building. This state-of-the-art facility is purpose-built for science research and teaching. It houses the Cole Museum of Zoology, a café and social spaces.

During your PhD at the University of Reading, you will expand your research knowledge and skills, receiving supervision in one-to-one and small group sessions. You will have access to cutting-edge technology and learn the latest research techniques.


Applicants should have a good degree (minimum of a UK Upper Second (2:1) undergraduate degree or equivalent) in Chemistry, Physical Chemistry, Biophysics, Applied physics, Engineering, or a related discipline. Applicants will also need to meet the University’s English Language requirements. We offer pre-sessional courses that can help with meeting these requirements. With a commitment to improving diversity in science and engineering, we encourage applications from underrepresented groups.

How to apply:

Submit an application for a PhD in Biomedical Sciences or Biomedical Engineering at


Further information:



Dr. Yoshikatsu Hayashi, email:

 Please see Dr Hayashi's profile:

Biological Sciences (4) Chemistry (6) Engineering (12) Physics (29)

Funding Notes

We welcome applications from self-funded students worldwide for this project.
If you are applying to an international funding scheme, we encourage you to get in contact as we may be able to support you in your application.


• Geher-Herczegh, T. , Wang, Z. , Masuda, T. , Yoshida, R. , Vasudevan, N. , Hayashi, Y. (2021) Delayed mechanical response to chemical kinetics in self- oscillating hydrogels driven by the Belousov−Zhabotinsky reaction. Macromolecules , 54 (13). pp. 6430-6439. ISSN: 0024-9297 | doi:
• Strong, V. , Holderbaum, W. , Hayashi, Y. (2022) Active matter as a path planning interpreter. Springer pp. 66-77. | doi: (IMA 2020. Springer Proceedings in Advanced Robotics, vol 21.)

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