PhD livMatS demonstrators soft autonomous machine (SaM) systems

The Cluster of Excellence livMatS develops completely novel, life-like materials systems that adapt autonomously to various environments and harvest clean energy from their surroundings. The intention of these purely technical – yet in a behavioral sense quasi-living – materials systems is to meet the demands of humans with regard to pioneering environmental and energy technologies. The societal relevance of autonomous systems and their sustainability will thus play an important role in their development. The research program of livMatS is characterized by highly interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers from a broad range of fields including engineering, chemistry, physics, biology, psychology, the humanities, and sustainability science.

The livMats Cluster of Excellence is offering a PhD position in the following project:

livMatS Demonstrators Soft Autonomous Machine (SAM) Systems controlled via soft logic gates with soft switches and sensors for environmental interaction

Start-date: 01.09.2023

Project description
In the framework of livMatS, technological demonstrators will be designed and built to integrate the research areas A-D. The demonstrators represent attractive research challenges and serve as lighthouses guiding research in the cluster. Soft autonomous machines (SaMs) encompass a field of robotics, which is based on softness, flexibility and adaptivity of the materials used and concerning the functionality of these devices. Soft motile plant and animal organs represent suitable concept generators as they show different types of elastic deformation and actuation mechanisms. SaMs are of interest in human machine interaction and extreme work environments, in which they especially benefit from their material-immanent softness. Furthering this research field will be the incorporation of materials-system-immanent feedback control and energy harvesting systems. Soft machines as envisioned by livMatS will be able to adapt their properties according to the challenges they are facing or the tasks requested for customized and user-adapted operation. The newest livMatS system in this area is a self-contained soft autonomous machine (SaM) walker demonstrator system with an integrated chemical energy carrier in the form of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) as an energy source for autonomous operation.

Within this project, an on board low energy control system for autonomous operation will be developed. The current motion control system is based up on electronic free pneumatic soft logic gates. The control system should integrated into the soft logic system and not only control motion but also fuel and energy distribution. A soft sensor system for environmental interaction and orientation shall be developed and integrated into the system. For this soft contact switches utilizing multi-stable geometries and structures with controllable stability points switching on contact or a specific load criteria. The SaM system will be outfitted with a soft gripper controlled by the developed sensory system. Furthermore, catalysis of or reaction of the fuel with the base material of the SaM can be triggered to change or adapt the local material properties and thus adapt system properties in response to a characteristic external signal.

This project combines previously in livMatS developed logic gate systems and grippers into a soft machine system (artificial Venus flytrap and gripper systems). For which a new PhD student in the Demonstrator area is needed. The PhD student’s main tasks will be the development of a system that according to the above specifications utilizes hydrogen peroxide as an energy source for motion through autonomous or localized pressure generation, and tackling the challenges of constructing and miniaturizing a soft low energy control and sensory systems for environmental interaction. The overall system design shall integrate metamaterial designs for movement amplification. Once a working system has been created, the focus of this project will be on integrating the developments of other cluster projects to create an autonomous system capable of environmental interaction.

Candidate profile
For the soft sensor and control system for the SaM a PhD researcher with an engineering background versed in biomimetic workflow, principles and demonstrator build up will be needed. The PhD candidate will be developing, characterizing and establishing logic gate fuel or gas distribution system for future developments, testing and usage of the livMatS materials as SaMs. For the project it is planned that one PhD student will develop logic gate system for SaMs incorporating the materials systems developed within the livMatS research areas.

Applicants must hold a master degree in the fields of biology, biomechanics or biophysics, engineering or material science. Key competences for the demonstrator development are physical understanding of robotic systems, quantitative analyses, experience in the development of bioinspired materials systems, structures and principle demonstrators. Knowledge and experience in 3D printing, pneumatic systems, CAD design, robotic systems especially soft robots, as well as multi-scale mechanical testing, experience in the field of statistical analyses and experience in interdisciplinary projects and teams will be greatly appreciated. Essential tasks are sensory system development, test setup design and interdisciplinary cooperation with the project partners. As an ideal applicant for the position you are creative, communicative, have assertiveness and leadership responsibility, are highly self-motivated and excel at scientific challenges.

Please hand in:
• Letter of intent detailing why you are interested in this specific project and how your previous research qualifies you for the project (up to 1,500 words)
• Curriculum Vitae with list of publications (if applicable)
• Certified copies of your university degree(s) with grades (Bachelor and Master certificate / Diploma certificate and transcript / doctoral certificate)
• Short summary of your Master thesis (up to 1,000 words)
• Work sample (chapter from recent thesis or journal article, up to 5,000 words)
• Suggestion of two referees with contact details

Your documents will not be returned after the application process. For this reason, please submit copies only. The position is funded until 31 December 2025. An extension is possible and your salary will be determined in accordance with TV-L E13. We are particularly pleased to receive applications from women for the position advertised here.

Please send your application in English including supporting documents mentioned above citing the reference number 00002988, Application deadline is 25 June, 2023. Application is to be emailed as ONE SINGLE PDF FILE to

Direct all scientific questions about the project to Prof. Thomas Speck