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School of Engineering and Materials Science Research Studentships

Theory / MD simulations of phase transitions in artificial morphogenesis

Supervisors: Stoyan SMOUKOV

Application Deadline: 31-10-2021

This is a fully funded full-time PhD position in the area of MD simulations of phase transitions at interfaces. We’re looking for candidates with programming and MD simulation experience. Willingness to work in an interdisciplinary team and learn new techniques, e.g. crystallography, nucleation theory, solid mechanics, is a must.

Fundamental goals include understanding and further control of the artificial morphogenesis process we have discovered. We have created methods for characterizing solid-solid phase transitions and developed force-field potentials that match experimental observations of these transitions. We make use of GROMACS and LAMMPS simulations to understand molecular details of interfacial phase transitions that we also study experimentally. We also do method development. The student will learn to benchmark simulations both against experiments and state-of-the-art theory and simulation. 

Novel phenomena to understand include interfacial phase transitions, 2D melting and 2D crystallization, and phase transitions in confinement. These have implications for fundamental understanding of membrane mechanics and phase transitions in living cells, the synthetic biology goal of creating minimal artificial cells, as well as applied directions pursued in the lab, including scalable fabrication of anisotropic colloid particles, novel nano self-emulsification for industrial processes. Our artificial morphogenesis would allow sustainable growth of artificial dynamic structures bottom-up, similar to ways one would grow bacteria. Simulations help us understand processes on a molecular level, create feedback between experimental processes and theory.

The work is supported by a £1M+ grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in the UK. We have extensive facilities, including frequent access to beamlines at national and international facilities. The facilities in the department include fully functioning fume hoods, spin coater, UV cross-linker, electrochemical workstations, as well as an array of analytical instruments – including rheometers, particle sizers, zeta potential, Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC)s , surface tension analyzers, confocal microscopes and electron microscopes:

For theoretical work, we are doing Molecular Dynamics (MD) simulations, with access to both in-house and national supercomputers.

  • Applicant required to start in either January or April 2022.
  • Annual stipend for three years (£17,609 for 2021/22), tuition fees also covered.
  • To be eligible for a full award (stipend and fees) applicants must have UK citizenship, or have settled status in the UK.
  • The minimum requirement for this studentship opportunity is a good Honours degree (minimum 2(i) honours or equivalent)  with research experience or MSc/MRes required.
  • If English is not your first language, we require certificate equivalent to IELTS 6.5+ overall, minimum 6.0 in Writing and 5.5 in all sections (Reading, Listening, Speaking).


Supervisor Contact Details:

For informal enquiries about this position, please contact Professor Smoukov

Tel: 020 7882 5305


Keywords: Phase Transitions, Confinement, GROMACS, LAMMPS, Anisotropic colloids, Bottom-up fabrication, Sustainability, Nano emulsification, Smart Materials, Targeted Drug Delivery, Polymerization, Cell-membrane modelling, Artificial Cells


Application Method:

To apply for this studentship in the Chemical Engineering and Renewable Energy programme (Full Time) please follow the instructions detailed on the following webpage:


Please be sure to include a reference to ‘2021 SEMS EPSRC CDT *SKS*’ to associate your application with this studentship opportunity.