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PhD Research position for the project Soft Autonomous Machine

The livMats Cluster of Excellence is offering a PhD Research position for the project Soft Autonomous Machine
  • Bewerbungsfrist: 02.10.2022
  • Veröffentlicht: 20.09.2022
  • Start-date: 01.12.2022
  • Part-time position (65 %)
  • Kennziffer: 00002530


The Cluster of Excellence livMatS develops completely novel, bioinspired 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 Cluster is offering a PhD research position for the following project:

livMatS demonstrators soft autonomous machine (SaM) systems driven by hydrogen peroxide based gas pressure generation with logic gated fuel/gas distribution system (Acronym: H2O2LogicGatesSaM)

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.

Within this project, a self-contained soft autonomous machine (SaM) demonstrator system with an integrated chemical energy carrier in the form of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) as an energy source for autonomous operation will be developed. Different areas from livMatS are focusing on implementing ways to autonomously produce the fuel on board e.g. by (photo)electrochemical synthesis, with electricity provided either by photoelectrodes, solar cells or integrated photobatteries, and implemented into SaM. The produced aqueous hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) will be stored in integrated reservoirs in the SaM. In the SaM developed in this project, H2O2 is then distributed through a logic gate-controlled system within a soft machine to nurture local reaction sites. This allows e.g. localized gas generation by catalytic H2O2-decomposition into water and gaseous oxygen to pressurize repeated pneumatic actuation allowing for shape morphing. Furthermore, catalysis of or reaction 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 the logic gate system into a gas distribution system for integrating it into a soft machine system. 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 a system with small-scale autonomous H2O2 production on board.

Candidate profile

For the logic gate controlled SaM system 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 H2O2 fluidic logic distribution 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.

This position is limited to 36 months. The salary will be determined in accordance with E13 TV-L.

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 00002530, by 02.10.2022 at the latest. Please send your application to the following address in written or electronic form:

Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
Cluster of Excellence livMatS
Georges-Köhler-Allee 105
D-79110 Freiburg
Application is to be emailed to positions@livmats.uni-freiburg.de (as ONE MERGED PDF file)

For further information, please contact Prof.Dr. Thomas Speck on the phone number +49 761 203-2875 or E-Mail thomas.speck@biologie.uni-freiburg.de.