PhD - Soft snap-through electromechanical valves for soft autonomous machines

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:

SNAPVALVE - Soft snap-through electromechanical valves for autonomous soft machines

Start-date: As soon as possible

Project description
The most widely adopted technology to drive soft robots is fluidic actuation, due to the fast response time, the complex deformation patterns and the large forces generated. However, fluidic elements per se are not actuators but rather mechanical transmission elements. Indeed, the actuator is the valve to which the soft fluidic element is connected. Such valve is conventionally an electromechanical device, which is heavy, large and rigid and often placed externally to the soft machine, condemning it to be tethered, or when on-board, contradicting the compliant nature of the machine. Thus, there is an urgent need in soft robotics to design and fabricate soft valves that can be integrated in the same embodiment of the soft machines to not compromise their functional compliance. As fluidic principles can be retained to transmit mechanical power to soft structures, SNAPVALVE aims to research and develop a new mechanism to build soft electromechanical transducers.
You will investigate soft electromagnetic actuation based on gallium-filled conductive channels embedded in elastomeric matrices to build the envisioned actuators. Moreover, by harnessing the nonlinear mechanical properties of soft materials, you will develop a new mechanical design featuring snap-through elastic instabilities in order to amplify the valve displacement.

Candidate profile

  • You have a Master's degree in Engineering, Robotics, Materials Science, Physics or a related field
  • You have a strong background in Solid Mechanics and Microsystems
  • You are familiar with CAD, FEM simulations and programming languages (python, MATLAB, etc)
  • You are creative, research-enthusiast, team-player, problem-solver, easy at working in an international environment and motivated to obtain a PhD degree!
  • Any prior research experience in Soft Robotics (master’s thesis, internship, research assistant) is welcome!

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 (B.Sc., M.Sc. certificate / Diploma certificate and transcript)
  • Short summary of your Master's 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 00003063, Application deadline is 30 June, 2023. Application is to be emailed as ONE SINGLE PDF FILE to

Direct all scientific questions about the project to Prof. Edoardo Milana