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Topology Optimisation and Laser-based Manufacture of Micro-Actuators for Medical Applications (EPS2022/45)

   School of Engineering & Physical Sciences

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  Dr Yuhang Chen, Prof D P Hand, Prof RL Reuben, Dr W N MacPherson  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

We offer a 3 or 3.5 years fully-funded PhD position for a highly motivated candidate with strong interest in scientific research and applying knowledge in Engineering and Physical Sciences to bioengineering and biomedical fields.

The growing application of micro-mechanics brought about by advanced manufacturing techniques has raised the possibility of sensing and actuation at a microscale. There is huge scope and opportunity for precision control of displacement and/or force in biomedical and surgical applications, including neuro/cardiovascular surgery, deep tissue sampling and micro-robotic manipulation. To empower the manufacturing processes with the capability of actuator and mechanism design, structural design and optimisation methods are pivotal to achieving non-intuitive designs or those with highly complex geometric and manufacturing constraints.

This PhD project will explore the structural optimisation methods for micro-actuators, including mechanically and thermally-driven mechanisms, and integrate the framework of design optimisation with laser-based manufacturing. The initial focus would be on simplified 2D structure achieving simple but clinically-relevant force or displacement controlled actuation, and then move onto more realistic applications. The techniques will involve topology optimisation and its associated computational structural design methods, and a number of novel laser-based manufacturing such as subtractive and additive manufacturing along with conventional thin film and patterning.

The PhD research will be carried out, jointly, between the Tissue Mechanics Group ( and the Applied Optics and Photonics Group ( The PhD candidate will work with a highly multidisciplinary group of researchers with a range of complementary expertise and lab facilities, to develop academic research skills as well as those for personal and career development, and will have opportunities to be involved in broader research context in medical device design and manufacturing, e.g. MDMC ( The PhD work will be associated with a newly-funded £1.25M EPSRC grant awarded to the supervisory team (''Mechanically-intelligent'' Intra-operative Tissue Assessment for Robot-Assisted Surgery (MIRAS)) and the candidate will have opportunity to interact and collaborate with the industrial and clinical advisors on the project and through the network of research groups.


All applicants should have or expect to have a 1st class undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in mechanical engineering, solid mechanics, materials engineering, biomedical engineering, applied physics or other related disciplines. The ideal candidate should be highly-motivated and have good written and oral communication skills as well as genuine interest in research and publishing your work. Previous experience, e.g. through a relevant undergraduate project, in computational mechanics and structural optimisation, with computer programming knowledge in MATLAB or Python, is desired but not essential. The project will require both individual and group work therefore effective operation in both environments is highly desired.

How to apply:

Formal applications must be made through the Heriot-Watt on-line application system: You will need to select ‘Edinburgh’ and ‘Postgraduate Research’ in ‘Mechanical Engineering’ and insert the primary supervisor’s name in the project details. This information will help us in receiving your application.

Funding Notes

Funding is available for UK or EU students who have settled or pre-settled status in the UK, and may also be available for international students. Successful candidate will be offered a 3 or 3.5 years fully-funded PhD scholarship at an average stipend rate of £15,000 per year.. The expected start date will be in summer or autumn 2022.
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