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Fully-funded PhD position in Computational Mechanics - Biomimetics [#2] for EU students for September 2016, University of Southampton, UK

Georges Limbert's picture

PhD project 2 (Reference: NGCM-0080)


Design and optimisation of bio-inspired programmable surfaces with active materials

Biotribology Group, nCATS
Faculty of Engineering and the Environment
University of Southampton, United Kingdom



In Nature, a number of animals and plants have evolved the ability to exploit patterned surfaces at various scales (e.g. Lotus flower, shark cuticles) to their advantages. Dynamic or adaptive patterned surfaces are very desirable as they can be adapted to specific contexts, operating conditions and environments.

Cephalopods such as octopus, squid and cuttlefish possess some of the most striking abilities in the animal kingdom: camouflage via rapid colour change and, of particular relevance for this project, adaptive change of the three-dimensional texture of their skin. Their skin acts as a programmable morphing soft surface.

In an engineering context, this type of functional ability can open up a vast array of practical applications from programmable haptic surfaces, morphing skin to control hydro-/aerodynamic drag (i.e. tunable friction) through antibiofouling strategies, to flexible electronics and tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.


The project

In this research, it is proposed to explore the use of soft active materials that respond to external stimuli in a controlled manner to induce various levels of potentially large surface deformation. Soft active materials respond to an external stimulus to perform a function or exhibit a change in material properties. Examples include dielectric elastomers that deform under electricity and force, and hydrogels that swell under a change in temperature or pH value.

The proposed research aims to understand the physical mechanisms behind surface instabilities and to achieve enhanced functions by harnessing or suppressing instabilities through the development of a robust and efficient finite element environment featuring integrated optimisation techniques. We aim to model how coupled fields such as stress, electric field, and chemical potential interact together to cause deformation and instabilities in such materials.

Theoretical modelling and numerical simulations will be performed to better understand such coupled responses. It is anticipated that the numerical tools to be developed may advance the understanding of surface patterning, and also facilitate the design of new materials and structures.


General information

The position is open to EU students only but exceptional overseas students could be considered.

The successful candidate will work in a stimulating research environment, supported by world-leading organisations such as Procter & Gamble, Rolls Royce and the US Air Force and will be encouraged to work with our international academic and industrial collaborators in Europe, South Africa, New Zealand, Singapore and the USA.

If you wish to discuss any details of the project informally, please contact Prof. Georges Limbert, nCATS and Bioengineering research group, Email:, Tel: +44 (0) 2380 592381.

This project is run through participation in the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Next Generation Computational Modelling ( For details of our 4 Year PhD programme, please visit


Apply NOW (for a start in September 2016):


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