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School of Engineering and Materials Science Research Studentships

Sustainable bottom-up growth of active colloidal structures and material robotics

Supervisors: Stoyan SMOUKOV

Application Deadline: 31-10-2021

This is a fully funded full-time PhD position in the area of Growing Material Robotics. We’re looking for candidates with synthetic polymer and colloidal science experience to help develop the next stage in micro- and nano-robotics.

Fundamental goals include control of polymer interpenetration for multifunctionality, creation of lipid membranes and minimal artificial cells in synthetic biology, elastocapilarity, role of curvature in crystallization, 2D melting and phase transitions in confinement. Potential investigations into origin of life. State-of-the-art research, published in top journals: Nature, Adv. Mater., PNAS, PRL.

Applied directions include scalable fabrication of anisotropic colloid particles, sustainable chemistry for biodegradable microplastics, novel nano self-emulsification for industrial processes. Students with entrepreneurial mindset and ability can participate in commercialization of technologies.

Current robotics components are not sustainable and cannot be scaled down below microns. To bring ubiquitous micro-robotics, we have pioneered many techniques for multi-functionality in materials, including a combinatorial method for incorporation of actuating, sensing, energy storage, and many other functions in the same material. Materials themselves will be able to perceive their environment, act accordingly, pre-programmed or autonomously.  We are combining these approaches with our discovery of artificial morphogenesis to grow regular anisotropic micro- and nanoparticles, such as hexagonal, triangular, rhomboid plates, as well as octahedra, icosahedra, rods, and fibers. We are now sustainably growing artificial dynamic structures bottom-up, similar to ways one would grow bacteria.

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 B.S. 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: Smart Materials, Soft Robotics, Targeted Drug Delivery, Theranostics, Smart encapsulation, Polymerization, Programmable materials, Synthetic Biology, Phase Transitions, Confinement, Anisotropic colloids, Bottom-up fabrication, Sustainability

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.