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Hybrid soft material printing for future sensors and actuators (Advert reference: RDF20/EE/MCE/LI)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, January 24, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Micro/nano sensor/actuator systems (e.g. MEMS/NEMS) have been significantly developed and applied in multi-disciplinary future engineering research themes.

Recent advances in soft and flexible system technologies have asked for the structures that can sustain large mechanical deformations, enabling advanced applications such as wearable sensors, soft robotics, electronic skins and biomimetic smart devices.

Such desirable features will also revolutionize existing technologies such as making displays, solar panels etc. stretchable and flexible, also unlocking next generation wearable/implantable healthcare devices which will bring improved end-user comfort, mechanical compatibility with skin and other human soft tissues, and ultimately greater care accessibility for the aging population.

Major challenges and opportunities associated with such technologies are focusing on using new materials and innovative manufacturing process.

This project proposes proof-of-concept research to develop soft material printing utilizing droplet microfluidics on smart surfaces, enabling next-generation flexible electronics with heterogeneous layered structures.

The focus will be on innovative soft material printing/patterning methodologies e.g. pinning/slippery surfaces, to achieve an integrated multilayer device with electro-luminescent responsive stimuli polymers (materials), optical responsive materials such as liquid crystal (chemical/physical transition) and conductive polymer materials (such as ionic hydrogels).

The research work packages will include theory studies and simulations, material characterisation, innovative soft material micro-fabrication process sections, as well as instrumentation controls.

Proposed key technologies employed in the work packages are:
• Theory and Simulation: FEA (ANSYS, ABAQUS, COMSOL)
• Materials characterisation: SEM, AFM, Electrical testing Probe station, Surface Profilometers.
• Surface wettability and microfluidics study: Droplet shape analyser, high speed video recording
• Micro/nano design and fabrication: L-Edit, K-layout, Inventor, Solidworks, soft-lithography, RIE, CVDs, printing, packaging, integration, SAM, anodization/oxidation, Sol-Gel

Project is expected to involve multidisciplinary collaboration within Northumbria University, as well as external partners such as University of Edinburgh, University of Leeds, University of Tokyo, and MEMSstar Ltd.

The principal supervisor for this project will be Dr Yifan Li. Second and third supervisors will be Dr Ben Xu and Dr. Valery Kozhevnikov.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

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.
• Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

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. RDF20/EE/MCE/LI) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: Friday 24 January 2020
Start Date: 1 October 2020

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 holds an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality.

Funding Notes

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


Flexible Electronic/Luminescence devices with functional soft materials:

D. Wang, N. Cheewaruangroj, Y. Li et al., “Structural confinement induced versatile formation of planar wrinkle pattern and multi-scale surface evolution”, Advanced Functional Materials, 28, 1704228, 2018.

X Dai, Y Du, J Yang, D Wang, J Gu, Y Li et al., “Recoverable and self-healing electromagnetic wave absorbing nanocomposites”, Composites Science and Technology, 174, 27-32, 2019.

Y. Liu, Y. Li et al., “Flexible and bendable acoustofluidics based on ZnO film coated aluminium foil”, Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical, 221, 230-235, 2015.

C. Wang, B. Xu, J.G. Terry, S. Smith, A.J. Walton, S. Wang, H. Lv and Y. Li*, “Flexible, Strain Gated Logic Transducer Arrays Enabled by Initializing Surface Instability on Elastic Bilayers”, APL Materials, 7, 031509, 2019.

C. Wang, D. Wang, V. Kozhevnikov, B. Xu and Y. Li*, “Elastic Instability Induced Mechano-Responsive Luminescence for Super-Flexible Strain Sensing”, IEEE Sensors, Glasgow, UK, Sept. 2017

Soft matter microfluidics manipulation:

Y. Fu, J. Luo, N. Nguyen, A. Walton, A. Flewitt, X. Zu, Y. Li, et al., “Advances in piezoelectric thin films for acoustic biosensors, acoustofluidics and lab-on-chip applications”, Progress in Materials Science, 898, 31-91, 2017.

T. Bai, D. Shao, J. Chen, Y. Li, B. Xu, and J. Kong, “pH-Responsive Dithiomaleimide-Amphiphilic Block Copolymer for Drug Delivery and Cellular Imaging”, Journal of Colloid and Interface Science, 552, 439-447, 2019.

J. Zhou, X. Tao, J. Luo, Y. Li et al., “Nebulization using ZnO/Si surface acoustic wave devices with focused interdigitated transducers”, Surface and Coatings Technology, 367, 127-134, 2019.

C Wang, S Sridhar, J Terry, A Sun, Z Li, H Lu, B. Xu, Y. Li*, “Advanced 3D morphing transducers by smart hydrogel patterning”, ”, IEEE Transducers XXXIII, Berlin, Germany, June 23-27, page 2508-2510, 2019.

Luminescent material science:

MZ Shafikov, R Daniels, P Pander, FB Dias, JAG Williams, V. Kozhevnikov*, “Dinuclear Design of a Pt(II) Complex Affording Highly Efficient Red Emission: Photophysical Properties and Application in Solution-Processible OLEDs”, ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 11, 8182-8193, 2019.

V. Kozhevnikov et al., “Iridium (III) Complexes of 1,2,4-Triazines as Potential Biorthogonal Reagents: Metal Coordination Facilitates Luminogenic Reaction with Strained Cyclooctyne”, RSC Chemical Communications, in press, doi: 10.1039/C9CC06828G, 2019.

A Santoro, AM Prokhorov, V. Kozhevnikov, et al., “Emissive metallomesogens based on 2-phenylpyridine complexes of iridium (III)”, Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), 133, 5248-5251, 2011.

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