Research Studentship in Solid Mechanics

Project: Multiscale modelling of strong and tough hydrogels

3.5-year DPhil studentship
Supervisors: Professor Laurence Brassart

Hydrogels form an exciting class of soft materials consisting of polymer networks swollen in large amount of water. They are abundant in nature, constituting most tissues in plants and animals. Synthetic hydrogels are also intensively developed for a variety of applications, from contact lenses and tissue engineering to soft robotics and biomedical implants. Understanding the relationships between the structure of polymer networks and the mechanical properties is critical for the design of hydrogels with improved performance.

This project will address this question via multiscale modelling. At the mesoscale, a discrete network computational model will be developed within the open source software LAMMPS. At this scale, polymer chains will be represented by nonlinear (entropic) springs connected at nodes representing crosslinking points [1]. The precise role of various network parameters (e.g. topology, chain length distribution, density…) on the deformation and damage response will be systematically investigated. Discrete network simulations will in turn serve as reference for the construction of macroscale constitutive models suited for large-scale simulations of hydrogel structures, typically using the finite element method. The methodology will be applied to a new class of strong and tough hydrogels made by the interpenetration of two polymer networks [2], and numerical predictions will be compared to experimental data from recent literature.

References:

  1. Alame, G., Brassart, L., 2019. Relative contributions of chain density and topology to the elasticity of two-dimensional polymer networks. Soft Matter 15, 5703.
  2. Sun, J.-Y., Zhao, X., Illeperuma, W.R.K., Chaudhuri, O., Oh, K.H., Mooney, D.J., Vlassak, J.J., Suo, Z., 2012. Highly stretchable and tough hydrogels. Nature 489, 133.

Eligibility

This studentship is funded through the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Doctoral Training Partnership and is open to UK students (full award – fees plus stipend). View full details of the EPSRC eligibility requirements.

Award Value

Course fees are covered at the level set for UK students (c. £7970 p.a.). The stipend (tax-free maintenance grant) is c. £15009 p.a. for the first year, and at least this amount for a further two and a half years.

Candidate Requirements

Prospective candidates will be judged according to how well they meet the following criteria:

  • A first class honours degree in Engineering, Physics or Materials Science
  • Excellent English written and spoken communication skills
  • Strong background in Solid Mechanics
  • Good programming skills (e.g. Matlab, Python)
  • Strong interest for modelling and simulation in Mechanics of Materials

The following skills are desirable but not essential:

  • Knowledge of polymer and soft matter physics
  • Knowledge of the Finite Element Method

Application Procedure

Informal enquiries are encouraged and should be addressed to Professor Laurence Brassart.

Candidates must submit a graduate application form and are expected to meet the graduate admissions criteria. Details are available on the course page of the University website.

Please quote 20ENGMM-LB in all correspondence and in your graduate application.

Application Deadline

Noon on 24 January 2020

Start Date

October 2020