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PhD Research position for the project Biological and bioinspired autonomous hygroscopic materials systems

The livMats Cluster of Excellence is offering a PhD Research position for the project Biological and bioinspired autonomous hygroscopic materials systems
  • Bewerbungsfrist: 25.06.2023
  • Veröffentlicht: 12.05.2023
  • Start-date: At the earliest possible date.
  • Part-time position (65 %)
  • Kennziffer: 00003047


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.


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, two interconnected goals will be pursued. First, the candidate will elucidate the working principles of functionally extremely robust and efficient hygroscopic plant structures via a fundamental research approach. This includes comparative analyses of their functional morphology and anatomy in 2D and 3D, their chemical and mechanical characterization, investigations regarding movement actuation, versatility, and functional robustness, as well as developmental processes. The project seeks to gain a profound understanding of how different motion patterns in hygroscopic plants are structurally and chemically programmed and how these design principles can be abstracted for a biomimetic transfer into technical materials systems. Second, the candidate will generate biomimetic demonstrators by 3D/4D printing and other tools of additive manufacturing via an application-oriented approach. The actuator systems used in these demonstrators will incorporate the design principles revealed in the fundamental approach and will be based on hygroscopic polymers combined with polymer-based restriction layers in a bioinspired materials system. The key idea is to generate biomimetic polymer-based structures, which swell/shrink through up-take/loss of water from the environment so that the system becomes responsive to humidity. Additionally, temperature sensitivity and further possibilities of user intervention will be developed. The envisaged biomimetic compliant devices will comprise adaptive medical devices and adaptive architectural elements, especially façade elements.

Candidate profile

Due to the highly interdisciplinary nature of this research program, the applicants must hold a master degree (or diploma) in the field of biology (biomechanics or biophysics), engineering, chemical, or material science. We seek a person with key competences in structural analyses of biological and/or technical specimen, multi-scale mechanical testing, chemical characterization, and biomimetic work processes, also including all necessary skills for scientific data analysis, evaluation, and presentation (e.g., statistical testing). Knowledge and experience in 3D/4D printing and experience in interdisciplinary projects and teams will be greatly appreciated. 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. In addition to the main doctoral supervision by Prof. Thomas Speck (University of Freiburg), the candidate is supported by Prof. Jürgen Rühe (IMTEK, University of Freiburg) and PD Dr. Simon Poppinga (Botanical Garden TU Darmstadt).

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 and transcripts)
  • 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 references with contact details

Your documents will not be returned after the application process. For this reason, please submit copies only.

This position is limited until 31 December 2025. An extension is possible. 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 00003047, by 25.06.2023 at the latest. Please send your application to the following address in written or electronic form:

Apply via the Jetzt Bewerben button below or email your PDF documents to positions@livmats.uni-freiburg.de

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.