/Microbots for cell – machine interfacing

Microbots for cell – machine interfacing

Leuven | More than two weeks ago

Using flexible thin-film semiconductor technologies to create small robots that can manipulate objects at the cell level


Piezoelectric materials can be used for both sensing of mechanical sources as well as actuation to create a displacement in your application. The era of thin-film electronics opened new application domains in this field, with micro-mirrors or nano-motors as examples. Piezoelectric materials can efficiently create a high stress even in thin layers, a stress that can be tuned by the applied voltage. The challenge with piezoelectric materials is to translate this stress into a large movement, especially in biofluids where the viscosity-to-shear rate relationship is nonlinear. Once motion and propulsion in the micrometer range is obtained, manipulation of micrometer range objects becomes possible.


The purpose of this PhD is to demonstrate an actuator using piezoelectric thin films to interact and manipulate micrometer objects, such as cells. From the start of the PhD, a piezoelectric platform on flexible substrates is available, processed in our imec cleanroom labs. While a high piezo response is achievable on this platform, a way to leverage the generated stress into efficient propulsion and control has to be developed by design. Further adaptations of the process flow (e.g., change the used flexible substrate) can improve the motion and displacement of the actuator when it is exposed to viscous forces. Finally, a demonstration and characterization of these actuators in a relevant biological scenario is envisaged. This PhD has three important pillars: 1) simulations of piezoelectric kirigami elements for optimized performance; 2) process adaptations to create propulsion and large displacement, and 3) characterization of the element. The PhD student will be involved in the entire fabrication cycle (design, processing and characterization) performed in the state-of-the-art facilities including imec's cleanroom and dedicated thin-film labs. The options that we have available in technology combined with the large options in mask design, offer large opportunities for creative innovations in this PhD topic.

The candidate

You are a highly motivated recent graduate holding a Master’s degree in nano-engineering, physics, material science, electrical engineering, or related. You have an interest in the processing of thin-film semiconductors, mechanical effects in such layers, and electrical and mechanical characterization. You will be expected to work safely in a cleanroom environment and acquire processing and lab skills. It is expected that you will present results regularly. You are a team player and have good communication skills as you will work in a multidisciplinary and multicultural team spanning several imec departments. Given the international character of imec, an excellent command of English is a must.

Required background: nano-engineering, physics, materials science or electrical engineering with strong affinity for multi-physics

Type of work: 10% literature study, 40% modeling+design, 30% processing, 20% characterization

Supervisor: Jan Genoe

Co-supervisor: Carolina Mora Lopez

Daily advisor: Epimitheas Georgitzikis

The reference code for this position is 2024-141. Mention this reference code on your application form.

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