PhD position: Emergence of helical propulsion from chemical systems

Job Description

In the framework of an ERC Consolidator Grant, we seek a talented and ambitious PhD researcher for a challenging research project that spans the fields of adaptive soft matter, bio-mimetic behavior, and artificial molecular motors.

The specific aim of this project is to develop micro-swimmers with a motility that shows similarities with those of bacteria. Motility, the ability to move spontaneously and actively, is essential to life at all length scales- starting from the sub-cellular level (with molecular machines), at the cellular level (motility of bacteria), and up to the multicellular level (cellular division). In fact, while life has undoubtedly emerged from a network of chemical reactions in confinement, this chemical evolution must have been followed very quickly, by the possibility to move autonomously, because early life compartments would have been endowed with the possibility to screen for light and chemicals. Eventually, it is plausible that cells have invested their scarce resources to synthesize molecular machines, that could steer their propulsion. In this research program we will investigate this hypothesis in fully synthetic systems, by using liquid crystal compartments that incorporate light-driven molecular motors in their design.

The experimental work will include the preparation of the micro-swimmers by using microfluidic methods, and potentially their stabilization by cross-polymerization. The trajectory tracking and analysis of their motion will be performed by optical microscopy primarily. We will explore the collective behavior of a flock of micro-swimmers, and investigate the correlation between molecular, supramolecular and microscopic chirality. Coupling these dynamic adaptive systems to auto-catalytic reactions will be considered also.

Recent publications on related topics:

1. T. Orlova, F. Lancia, C. Loussert, S. Iamsaard, N. Katsonis, E. Brasselet, Nature Nanotechnology 2018, DOI: 10.1038/s41565-017-0059-x

2. S. Iamsaard, S. J. Aβhoff, B. Matt, T. Kudernac, J. J. L. M. Cornelissen, S. P. Fletcher, N. Katsonis, Nature Chemistry 2014, 6, 229 - 235.

3. T. Kudernac, N. Ruangsupapichat, M. Parschau, B. Maciá, N. Katsonis, S. R. Harutyunyan, K-H. Ernst, B. L. Feringa, Nature 2011, 479, 208-211.


We are looking for a chemist who has experience with physical chemistry – specifically with molecular self-assembly, molecular nanotechnology, or (chiral) liquid crystals. Alternatively, applications from synthetic organic chemists will be considered also.

We work in an internationally oriented environment, thus fluency in both written and spoken English is a strict requirement. We specifically encourage the application of students who are

creative, motivated to work on challenging projects, and with an affinity for disruptive research. Keen interest for experimental work should be evidenced by publications (or papers in press) in high quality peer reviewed journals or an MSc thesis on a relevant topic.

Scientific Environment

In the Bio-inspired and Smart Materials group we are developing adaptive materials that are inspired by the multiscale, sophisticated and stimuli-responsive architectures that are found in nature. To this end, we explore how the movement of artificial molecular motors, switches and machines is expressed, transmitted and amplified across length scales in molecular systems - from the nanoscale up to the macroscopic (functional) level. Our core expertise entails soft matter, where the energy of interaction between molecules is weak, which makes them sensitive to small changes in the environment, in their chemical structure, or in their composition. The research also implies a special focus on non-equilibrium systems that are fueled by light. Ultimately, our research program seeks to address open questions related to the emergence of life-like functions in chemical systems.

We are part of the Faculty of Science & Technology of the University of Twente (The Netherlands), where some 700 staff members and more than 1100 students are involved in training and research at the interface between chemical technology, applied physics and biomedical technology. Fields of application include sustainable energy, process technology and materials science, nanotechnology and technical medicine. Research, which enjoys a high profile both at home and internationally, has been accommodated in the multidisciplinary research institutes MESA+ and MIRA.

Conditions of Employment

The position is available starting from October 2018 and has a duration of 4 years. We provide an inspiring and collaborative team atmosphere, cutting-edge infrastructure, close interaction between supervisor/student, and you will also benefit from the excellent research environment that is available for molecular and supramolecular chemistry in The Netherlands. Salary and conditions will be in accordance with the Collective Labor Agreement (CAO) of the Dutch Universities.

Information and application

For more information about this position, please contact Prof. Nathalie Katsonis, e-mail:, or visit our website To apply, please e-mail a complete CV, reference letters or names of references, and a letter of application to Ms. Nicole Haitjema, Please mention the title of the project in the subject of the e-mail.

Deadline for application: May 15, 2018