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University of Sheffield Featured PhD Programmes
FindA University Ltd Featured PhD Programmes
FindA University Ltd Featured PhD Programmes

Microfluidic manipulation of the properties of soft biocompatible materials via thermophoresis

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Tuesday, December 31, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

This project aims to exploit an innovative way to locally manipulate the mechanical properties and porosity of a soft material at the micron scale, and thus develop a new class of functionalised materials.
Through this project we will exploit an innovative approach, based on the manipulation of molecules and polymers in microfluidics exploiting thermophoresis (i.e. the drift induced by a temperature gradient) [1–3]. My group has recently demonstrated the ability to modify the stiffness of a biocompatible hydrogel by thermophoresis [4,5]. In this project we aim to control the biocompatible material’s properties at the length scale typical of a single cell by creating different temperature patterns (using embedded Joule heaters and/or infrared illumination) and thus a stiffness pattern. We will then cultivate cells over the material and study their response. We will for example investigate Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs) differentiation in the presence of growth factors by tuning the properties of the material, or study how cancer cells, such as HeLa and Caco-2, respond to mechanical stimuli and how this translate into cancer spread. We will also aim to exploit the localized difference in porosity that we recently characterised to further characterise these new materials and possibly to control the release of drugs or growth factors by controlling the degradation time of the hydrogel.
A crucial aim of this PhD project is also the investigation of thermophoresis that will be performed exploiting microfluidic devices designed ad hoc and by employing advanced optical methods that will be developed during this PhD project. The understanding of the fundamental principles behind the formation of a concentration gradient induced by the presence of a temperature gradient are paramount to be able to manipulate the final material’s properties.
Most of the biggest challenges in tissue engineering, the comprehension of the mechanisms of cancer invasion and wound healing rely on the capability to control, adjust and manipulate a variety of different materials building blocks at the microscale. Here we will take a step forward into the generation of an innovative in-vitro approach where the local properties of the substrate can be tailored to better mimic physiological conditions to better understand diseases and reduce the requirement of animal in research. We will for example be able to mimic tissues presenting a stiffness gradient typical, for example, of the joints in humans where bones and tendons meet, a region currently very difficult to mimic accurately without in-vivo studies.

The project is intrinsically multi-disciplinary and thus will require the PhD candidate to be highly motivated and interested in learning a wide range of scientifically challenging topics including microfluidics, soft matter and biotechnology. Previous experience with optical microscope, microfluidics, optics, cell culture and computational methods will be highly appreciated but are not strictly required to apply.
Applicants should have a Chemical Engineering, Physics, Bioengineering or Chemistry degree. International applicants should hold an IELTS English Score of 6 with no less than 5.5 in any band.
If you are interested in applying please contact Dr Vigolo on attaching your CV.

Funding Notes

This project is fully funded by School of Chemical Engineering.
The award comprises the full payment of tuition fees at UK Research Councils rate (about £5,000 per year) and an annual tax-free doctoral stipend at UK Research Councils UK/EU rates (£15,009 for 2019/20) to be paid in monthly instalments to the PhD candidate.
Due to funding restrictions, the position is fully funded for UK/EU applicants only. Non-EU applicants can still apply for the position but in case of acceptance of the position they will be required to pay the additional fee for international students (about £15,000 per year).


[1] D. Vigolo, J. Zhao, S. Handschin, X. Cao, A. J. DeMello, and R. Mezzenga, Sci. Rep. 7, 1211 (2017).
[2] D. Vigolo, R. Rusconi, H. A. Stone, and R. Piazza, Soft Matter 6, 3489 (2010).
[3] D. Vigolo, S. Buzzaccaro, and R. Piazza, Langmuir 26, 7792 (2010).
[4] D. Vigolo, S. N. Ramakrishna, and A. J. DeMello, Sci. Rep. 9, 7125 (2019).
[5] A. Kosmidis, Y. Shen, L. Grover, and D. Vigolo, In Preparation (2019).

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Aeronautical, Mechanical, Chemical and Manufacturing Engineering?
Chemical Engineering

FTE Category A staff submitted: 32.50

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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