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Combining 3D printing, rheology and x-ray scattering to learn how we should 3D print sustainable soft robots


Key facts

Type of research degree
Application deadline
Monday 8 January 2024
Project start date
Monday 8 January 2024
Country eligibility
UK only
Competition funded
Source of funding
Doctoral training partnership
Dr Devesh Mistry
Additional supervisors
Dr Johan Mattsson, Dr Arwen Tyler
School of Food Science and Nutrition, School of Physics and Astronomy
<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Summary</h2>

Inspired by the complexity, variety and performance of biological actuating materials, &ldquo;soft&rdquo; robotics aim to transform industries from healthcare to exploration of extreme environments. Take surgical probes, presently cumbersome and large bronchoscopes cannot access the deeper tissues of the lung to enable biopsy, diagnosis, treatment of lung cancer at its early stage. Another example is exploration of and environmental sensing in aquatic environments and close to living organisms where traditional robots are struggle to move and perform accurate measurements.<br /> <br /> Liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs) are a class of soft materials which have the potential to solve both these and other similar challenges which require new soft robotic devices. 3D printing and new chemistries has revolutionised LCEs, enabling complex and reprocessible actuators &ndash; such as those needed for the above challenges. However, before we can truly exploit 3D printed soft robotic LCE devices, we need to first understand precisely how their molecular structure and monomer sequence controls and optimises the molecular order instilled during 3D printing, and how this affects the final material properties.<br /> <br /> In this project you will create range of reprocessible and 3D printable liquid crystalline materials, and will perform the first combined rheological and x-ray scattering studies to precisely understand how structure affects the processing conditions required to create soft robotic devices. Then by using direct-ink-writing 3D printing, you will create soft robotic LCE devices and will perform experiments to characterise their ability to do work, and their dynamic responsiveness as a soft robot. The aim will be to link understand what molecular orders and structures your 3D printing conditions created, and how those affected the performance of the devices produced.<br /> <br /> This project will suit candidates with physics and materials science backgrounds who are keen to broaden their knowledge and expertise across experimental soft matter science. Candidates are not expected to have specific expertise in experimental soft matter science, however a motivation to learn polymer physics, x-ray scattering techniques and mechanical testing methods is required. Through a personalised training plan developed between you and the project supervisors you will learn any necessary skills.<br /> <br />

<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Full description</h2>

<p style="margin-bottom:11px">For further background information, please see the following papers:</p> <ol> <li>Soft-Elasticity Optimises Dissipation in 3D-Printed Liquid Crystal Elastomers,&nbsp; <a href=""></a></li> <li>Processing and reprocessing liquid crystal elastomer actuators, &nbsp;<a href=""></a></li> </ol>

<h2 class="heading">How to apply</h2>

<p>Formal applications for research degree study should be made online through the&nbsp;<a href="">University&#39;s website</a>. Please state clearly in the Planned Course of Study section that your are applying for&nbsp;<em><strong>EPSRC Bragg Centre DTP</strong></em>&nbsp;and in the research information section&nbsp;that the research degree you wish to be considered for is&nbsp;<em><strong>Combining 3D printing, rheology and x-ray scattering to learn how we should 3D print sustainable soft robots</strong></em>&nbsp;as well as <a href="">Dr Devesh Mistry</a>&nbsp;as your proposed supervisor.&nbsp; Please state in the Finance section that you are applying for&nbsp;<em><strong>EPSRC</strong></em>&nbsp;<em><strong>Bragg Centre Doctoral Training Studentship &ndash;&nbsp;2024/25</strong></em>.</p> <p>If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University&#39;s minimum English language requirements (below).</p> <p>As an international research-intensive university, we welcome students from all walks of life and from across the world. We foster an inclusive environment where all can flourish and prosper, and we are proud of our strong commitment to student education. Across all Faculties we are dedicated to diversifying our community and we welcome the unique contributions that individuals can bring, and particularly encourage applications from, but not limited to Black, Asian, people who belong to a minority ethnic community, people who identify as LGBT+ and people with disabilities. Applicants will always be selected based on merit and ability.</p> <p>Applications will be considered after the closing date for applications. &nbsp;Potential applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the supervisors for an informal discussion before making a formal application. &nbsp;We also advise that you apply at the earliest opportunity as the application and selection process may close early, should we receive a sufficient number of applications or that a suitable candidate is appointed.</p> <p>Please note that you must provide the following documents in support of your application by the closing date of 8 January 2024:</p> <ul> <li>Full Transcripts of all degree study or if in final year of study, full transcripts to date</li> <li>Personal Statement outlining your interest in the project</li> <li>CV</li> </ul>

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">Entry requirements</h2>

Applicants to research degree programmes should normally have at least a first class or an upper second class British Bachelors Honours degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate discipline. The criteria for entry for some research degrees may be higher, for example, several faculties, also require a Masters degree. Applicants are advised to check with the relevant School prior to making an application. Applicants who are uncertain about the requirements for a particular research degree are advised to contact the School or Graduate School prior to making an application.

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">English language requirements</h2>

The minimum English language entry requirement for research postgraduate research study is an IELTS of 6.0 overall with at least 5.5 in each component (reading, writing, listening and speaking) or equivalent. The test must be dated within two years of the start date of the course in order to be valid. Some schools and faculties have a higher requirement.

<h2 class="heading">Funding on offer</h2>

<p class="MsoNoSpacing" style="text-align:start; margin-bottom:24px">A highly competitive EPSRC Bragg Centre Doctoral Training Partnership Studentship offering the award of fees, together with a tax-free maintenance grant (currently &pound;18,622 for academic session 2023/24) for 3.5 years.&nbsp; Training and support will also be included in this studentship.<br /> <br /> All candidates will be placed into the EPSRC Bragg Centre Doctoral Training Partnership Studentship Competition and selection is based on academic merit. This process has two stages, an informal assessment with the project supervisor to assess project fit and a formal interview with the Bragg Centre panel to award funding across all projects.</p> <p>Please refer to the&nbsp;<a href="">UKCISA</a>&nbsp;website for&nbsp;information regarding Fee Status for Non-UK Nationals.</p>

<h2 class="heading">Contact details</h2>

<p class="MsoNoSpacing" style="text-align:start; margin-bottom:24px">For further information about your application, please contact Doctoral College Admissions by email to&nbsp;<a href=""></a></p> <p>For further information about this project, please contact Dr Devesh Mistry by email to&nbsp;<a href=""></a></p> <p>For further information about the Bragg Centre, please contact the Bragg Centre by email to&nbsp;<a href=""></a></p>

<h3 class="heading heading--sm">Linked funding opportunities</h3>