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


Drs Devesh Mistry, Johan Mattsson (both Soft Matter Physics) and Dr Arwen Tyler (School of Food Science) are seeking applicants for their competition-funded PhD project which will centre on using the latest SAXS/WAXS equipment acquired by the SMP group to study the structure and flow characteristics of reprocessible 3D printable materials used for soft robotic technologies.

For further details, and to apply see here: Combining 3D printing, rheology and x-ray scattering to learn how we should 3D print sustainable soft robots

Inspired by the complexity, variety and performance of biological actuating materials, “soft” 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 struggling to move and perform accurate measurements.

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 – 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.

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.

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.


For further background information, please see the following papers:

Soft-Elasticity Optimises Dissipation in 3D-Printed Liquid Crystal Elastomers,

Processing and reprocessing liquid crystal elastomer actuators,