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Marie Sklodowska-Curie Early Stage Researcher in liquid crystal elastomers - Cambridge University

Dr John Biggins (supervisor) and Prof Mark Warner FRS (co-supervisor) are searching for a talented theorist with interests in mechanics and geometry to work on the design of soft liquid crystal elastomer (LCE) machines. The studentship is part of a new Marie Sklodowska-Curie training network called storm-bots, which will encompass 13 students across Europe working on the design and creation soft LCE machines. The soft, anisotropic materials of the project, liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs) and glasses, contract along their director on heating/illumination. LCEs are also exquisitely programable materials: a flat LCE sheet may be prepared with any desired spatial director pattern written into it. On actuation, this director encodes a pattern of contraction which will change the metric of the sheet and morph it into a curved surface. Such "metric mechanics" allows the sheet to actuate into a surface which bears Gaussian curvature (e.g. a spherical cap or a cone) and hence cannot be flattened without energetically prohibitive stretch. Patterned LCE sheets can thus form powerful monolithic machines, which perform useful tasks as they actuate. In this project, we will design LCE patterns to create strong lifters, grabbers, manipulators, microfluidic pumps/valves.

The student will combine differential geometry, computation and micro-mechanics to elucidate the fundamental mechanics and design of programmed LCE sheets. The aim is to actually design and optimize director patterns for sheets for the above elements, and other components of soft robotics. There will also be secondments with experienced experimental partners: at Preceyes (Netherlands; Beelen), in Tampere (Finland; Arri Primägi) and Eindhoven (Netherlands; Dick Broer, Danqing Liu), to fabricate and test the resultant LCE patterns.

Beyond simple LCE sheets, the student will also be encouraged to search for further applications and novel mechanics in the area of composite LC/non-LC solid assemblies leading to instabilities, snapping, encapsulation and novel, non-isometric origami. There is also the opportunity to collaborate with the emerging in-house experimental effort in Cambridge.

Applicants should have (or expect to obtain by the start date) at least a good 2.1 degree (or international equivalent) in an Engineering, Physics, Mathematics or related subject.

The studentship is only available for an early career researcher (less than four years research experience) who has not resided in the UK for more than 12 months out of the last three years.

Applications for this studentship are made online at

This position is ESR7.
Applicants are also encourage to send a two page CV directly to John Biggins (


The student that is awarded this fellowship will receive €54,857.52 + allowances (GBP equivalent) p.a.

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