Research Studentship in Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering
3.5-year D.Phil. studentship
Project: Functionalised biopolymers for regenerative and therapeutic soft robotics
Supervisor: Malavika Nair
In the last decade alone, degenerative diseases have featured heavily in the ten leading causes of death. Degenerative diseases and injuries have not only seen a marked increase in mortalities but are also the major contributor to the rising disability in our aging populations. As a result, there has been significant interest in developing improved implantable medical devices, which aim to replace, support, and restore the function and mobility lost by diseased tissues.
The extra cellular matrix (ECM) of tissues is an excellent base material for therapeutic and regenerative biomedical devices, since they can mimic the biological, chemical and physical environment experienced by cells in healthy tissue. However, the biomedical devices currently fabricated from the ECM have limited tunability or dynamic control once implanted within the body. The aim of this project is to develop soft robotic biomedical devices from biological polymers. Soft robots are flexible, have a high specific strength and high response rates which make them ideal for applications requiring sensitive motions. Biopolymers are an attractive material choice for biomedical soft robots: they are abundant, biodegradable, and can offer excellent biomimicry if derived from the ECM. However, these polymers typically display limited stimulus-driven shape change on their own.
As part of the project, the student will optimise the electroactivity of tissue-derived biopolymers, and eventually develop a proof-of-concept therapeutic device. The project will involve the fabrication and structural characterisation of ECM-based materials at the nano- and micro-scale. The electroactivity of the materials will also be assessed using a range of electrical characterisation techniques including advanced atomic force microscopy techniques. Finally, the project will offer opportunities for in-vitro testing through controlled drug release or electrical stimulation of model cell lines. While this project offers several possible avenues of investigation and professional development of various experimental techniques, there is some scope for a student to define the scope of the project in conjunction with the supervisor based on their research interests.
Suitable applicants could come from a range of experimental science backgrounds (materials science, engineering, physics, chemistry) if they have an interest in developing and employing skills in materials synthesis, characterisation and in vitro testing.
Prospective candidates will be judged according to how well they meet the following criteria:
· A strong upper second-, or first-class honours degree in Engineering, Physics, Chemistry, Materials Science or other cognate disciplines
· Excellent English written and spoken communication skills
The following skills are also highly desirable:
· Strong laboratory-based skills
· Programming experience (i.e. Matlab, Python, etc.)
Informal enquiries are encouraged and should be addressed to Associate Professor Malavika Nair (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Candidates must submit a graduate application form and are expected to meet the graduate admissions criteria. Details are available on the course page of the University website.
Please quote 23ENGBI_MN in all correspondence and in your graduate application.
Application deadline: noon on 9 December 2022
Start date: October 2023