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A soft robotic technology by controllably morphing gel structures (Advert Reference: RDFC18/EE/MCE/XU)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, June 09, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

This project includes the design and fabrication of a soft robotic technology by using the stimuli-responsive hydrogel materials and structural thin shell design, which enable instability morphology to be spatially distributed and generated at the surface of gel structure. We will demonstrate the autonomous motion and the capability to grip and release object for those gel structures. A mixing morphological development of wrinkling and creasing will be expected on the curved surface. As being guided by the structural confinement, the entire gel structure undergoes snap to close and then unfold to full open. A series of experiments will be conducted to investigate the effects from the geometrical input and swelling ratios to the “closing” and “re-opening” process. We will perform a scaling analysis to understand the morphing of the structure as function of the curvature, swelling ratio and other structure geometrical inputs.

Key skills used in research work packages are:
1. Gel chemistry, synthesis
2. Materials characterisation skills: SEM, AFM, Electrical testing Probe station, Profilometer, Ellipsometry, fluorescence microscopy, Laser confocal scanning microscopy
3. Micro-engineering: Lithography, soft-lithography, RIE, CVDs, printing, packaging, integration, SAM, anodization/oxidation,
4. FEM simulation (ABAQUS)

The Principal Supervisor for this project is Dr. Ben Xu

Please note eligibility requirement:

* Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
* Appropriate IELTS score, if required

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDFC18/EE/MCE/XU) will not be considered.

Closing Date for Applications: 9 June 2019
Interviews: end of June 2019/beginning of July 2019
Start Date: 1 October 2019

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University hold an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality and is a member of the Euraxess network, which delivers information and support to professional researchers.

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to students worldwide with a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2019/20, this is £15,009 pa), and full fees.


D. Wang, N. Cheewaruangroj, Y.F. Li, G. McHale, Y.Z. Jiang, D. Wood, J.S. Biggins, B. Xu*. Spatially
configuring wrinkle pattern and multi-scale surface evolution with structural confinement, Advanced
Functional Materials, 28(2018), pp.1704228. (IF=12.124, TOP 5% journal (Rank as 13 of 275) in MATERIALS SCIENCE, MULTIDISCIPLINARY, cover paper)
É. Ruíz-Gutiérrez, J.H. Guan, B. Xu, et al. Energy invariance in capillary systems, Phys. Rev. Lett.,
118(2017), pp. 218003. (IF=8.462, Rank as 6 of 79 in ENGINEERING, MULTIDISCIPLINARY)
B. Xu, Q. Liu, R. Hayward, Z. Suo. Reversible electrochemically-triggered delamination blistering of
hydrogel films on micro patterned electrodes, Advanced Functional Materials, 26(2016), pp. 3218–3225.
(IF=12.124, TOP 5% journal (Rank as 13 of 275) in MATERIALS SCIENCE, MULTIDISCIPLINARY)
B. Xu, D. Cheng and R. C. Hayward. Mechanically gated transistors by creasing of patterned metal/ elastomer bilayer films. Advanced Materials, 26 (2014), pp.4381–4385. (IF=19.791, TOP 2% journal (Rank as 6 of 275) in MATERIALS SCIENCE, MULTIDISCIPLINARY)

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