PhD studentship: Mechanically induced phase transitions in Liquid Crystal Elastomers

University of Surrey

Supervisor names:  Dr James Adams and Dr Jon Bevan

Funding Status: Competition Funded Project (Students Worldwide)

Project description: Liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs) are an exciting type of composite elastic material with a wide range of current and potential applications (microfluidic actuators, haptic displays, shape memory materials, smart rubbers, active materials [1]). By combining properties of elastic solids with those of a liquid crystal, the resulting material is capable of exhibiting novel and unusual mechanical responses, such as soft elasticity. Associated with this in certain LCEs is ‘necking’, a form of abrupt, localized shape change surrounded by regions of relative homogeneity, whose appearance seems to depend very sensitively on the applied boundary conditions [2]. This behaviour is very poorly understood, and so this PhD project will focus on `filling the gap’ by developing and analysing a model of material microstructure capable of accurately predicting necking. 

The PhD project will be jointly supervised by academics from both the Departments of Mathematics and Physics at Surrey.  The goal is to develop and analyse a model of LCEs where so-called Frank energies are present: these ensure that director switching is controlled and lends a greater realism to both the problem and its mathematical and materials science setting. This unusual mechanism of necking behaviour, and the accompanying textures, can then be put in the much broader context of necking phenomena in other materials.

As a PhD student based in the Department of Mathematics (but with extensive interaction with the Department of Physics), you will work as part of a vibrant and supportive community of early career researchers who exchange ideas and collaborate with each other and the wider mathematics and physics community. You will be extensively trained for a career as a professional mathematician/physicist, which will set you on the right track for a future in academia, industry or government. In particular, training will be provided in the techniques needed to model and analyse LCEs, so no prior knowledge of these materials is necessary.

During your PhD you will also receive comprehensive training in transferable skills such as project management, communication and time management through our Faculty Graduate School. In addition, you will broaden your horizons by taking courses via national networks such as the national MAGIC consortia as well as our own in-house MSc programme.

Applicants should have a minimum of a first class honours degree in mathematics or physics and they must be willing to work at the interface of both fields. Preferably applicants will hold a MMath, MPhys or MSc degree, though exceptional BSc students will be considered.

The Faculty has a number of fully funded PhD studentships for UK and EU nationals who can demonstrate the appropriate residency requirements. These studentships will include the tuition fees and a tax-free stipend. The Department has also a few scholarships for partial funding for overseas fees. However, funding for overseas students is limited and overseas students are encouraged to find suitable funding themselves.


1] T. J. White and D. J. Broer,  Nature Materials 14, 1087, 2015.

[2] H. Higaki et al. Macromolecules 46, 5223,  2013.

[3] S. Conti et al. Phys. Rev. E 66 061710 2002.

Application enquiries:

Dr Matt Turner

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