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PhD Studentship: Microfluidic Manipulation of the Properties of Soft Biocompatible Materials via Thermophoresis

University of Birmingham - School of Chemical Engineering

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Birmingham
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: £15,000
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 20th August 2019
Closes: 30th November 2019

Supervisor: Dr. D. Vigolo

This project aims to exploit an innovative way to locally manipulate the mechanical properties and porosity of a soft material at the micron scale, and thus develop a new class of functionalised materials.

Through this project we will exploit the manipulation of molecules and polymers in microfluidics exploiting thermophoresis (i.e. the drift induced by a temperature gradient) [Vigolo et al., Sci. Rep., 7, 2017; Vigolo et al., Soft Matter, 6, 2010]. My group recently demonstrated the ability to modify the stiffness of a biocompatible hydrogel by thermophoresis [Vigolo et al., Sci. Rep., 9, 2019]. In this project we aim to control the biocompatible material’s properties at the length scale typical of a single cell by creating different temperature patterns (using embedded Joule heaters and/or infrared illumination) and thus a stiffness pattern. We will then cultivate cells, such as MSCs, over the material and study their response.

A crucial aim of this PhD project is also the investigation of thermophoresis that will be performed exploiting microfluidic devices designed ad hoc and by employing advanced optical methods. The understanding of the fundamental principles behind the formation of a concentration gradient induced by the presence of a temperature gradient are paramount to be able to manipulate the final material’s properties.

We will take a step forward into the generation of an innovative in-vitro approach where the local properties of the substrate can be tailored to better mimic physiological conditions to better understand diseases.

Eligibility requirements: The project is multi-disciplinary and will require the PhD candidate to be highly motivated and interested in learning scientifically challenging topics including microfluidics, soft matter and biotechnology. Previous experience with optical microscope, microfluidics, optics, cell culture and computational methods will be highly appreciated but are not strictly required to apply.

Applicants should have a Chemical Engineering, Physics, Bioengineering or Chemistry degree. International applicants should hold an IELTS English Score of 6 with no less than 5.5 in any band.

This project is fully funded by School of Chemical Engineering, University of Birmingham.

The award comprises the full payment of tuition fees at UK Research Councils UK/EU fee level (about £5,000 per year) and an annual tax-free doctoral stipend at UK Research Councils UK/EU rates (about £15,000 for 2019/20) to be paid in monthly instalments to the PhD candidate.

Due to funding restrictions, the position is fully funded for UK/EU applicants only. Non-EU applicants can still apply for the position but in case of acceptance of the position they will be required to pay the additional fee for international students (about £15,000 per year).

If you are interested in applying please email your CV to DR Vigolo, or apply via

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