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Novel Smart Materials to Control Liquids (Advert Reference: SF19/EE/MPEE/McHALE)

Faculty of Engineering and Environment

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Prof G McHale , Dr G Wells Applications accepted all year round Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Materials properties are fundamental to how liquids interact with them to control physical processes from water repellency to icing. This project will create a completely new class of materials to control solid surface interactions with liquids.

A material may imbibe or repel water and at the same time repel or imbibe an oil. These types of properties control the ability to separate oil/water mixtures. The ability of a material to repel water allows a surface to have self-cleaning properties like those observed in nature with the Lotus leaf. In contrast, the ability of a material to retain a layer of water (or oil) allows a surface to have slippery properties like those observed in nature with the Nepenthes Pitcher plant. Minimizing the impact and rebound time of droplets of water is important in preventing ice formation whilst minimizing bubbles of vapor at a surface is important in heat transfer. Our focus is on the physical processes by which liquids wet and spread on surfaces and understanding how materials can be constructed using surface structure, topography and texture to control those processes.

This project will design, fabricate and test a completely new class of materials for controlling solid surface interaction with liquids. The work will include the lithographic production of structured surfaces and the patterning of elastomeric materials. Initial experiments will use video observation of how liquid droplets rest and roll across the surfaces. For the elastomeric materials, the effect of strain on these properties will be considered. The project will also consider impact and rebound of droplets and how the material properties can be used to minimize the contact time.

The work will be conducted within the Smart Materials & Surfaces laboratory of the University and may involve wider collaboration with Universities in the UK and China.

This project is supervised by Professor Glen McHale.

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. SF19/EE/MPEE/McHALE) will not be considered.

Start Date: 1 March 2020 or 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 and is a member of the Euraxess network, which delivers information and support to professional researchers.

Funding Notes

This is an unfunded research project.


[1] Geraldi, N. R., et. al. (2019). Double-sided Slippery Liquid-infused Porous Materials using Conformable Mesh. Scientific Reports, 9 (1), 13280
[2] McHale, G., Orme, B. V, Wells, G. G., & Ledesma-Aguilar, R. (2019). Apparent Contact Angles on Lubricant-Impregnated Surfaces/SLIPS: From Superhydrophobicity to Electrowetting. Langmuir, 35 (11), 4197–4204.
[3] Wang, D., et al. (2018). Spatially Configuring Wrinkle Pattern and Multiscale Surface Evolution with Structural Confinement. Advanced Functional Materials, 28 (1), 1704228.
[4] Li, J., et al. (2017). Topological liquid diode. Science Advances, 3 (10), eaao3530.

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