EPSRC CDT in Metamaterials (PhD studentship): Metamaterials-enhanced self-charging bio-compatible smart textiles for wearable electronics Ref: 2844

About the award

The studentship is part of the UK’s Centre of Doctoral Training in Metamaterials (XM2) based in the Departments of Physics and Engineering on the Streatham Campus in Exeter.  Its aim is to undertake world-leading research, while training scientists and engineers with the relevant research skills and knowledge, and professional attributes for industry and academia.

XM2 studentships are of value around £90,000, which includes £11,000 towards the research project (travel, consumables, equipment etc.), tuition fees, and an annual, tax-free stipend of approximately £14,500 per year for UK/EU students.

Exeter has a well-established and strong track record of relevant research, and prospective students can consider projects from a wide variety of fields:

  • Acoustic and Fluid-dynamical Metamaterials
  • Biological and Bio-inspired Metamaterials
  • Graphene and other 2D Materials, and related Devices
  • Magnonics, Spintronics and Magnetic Metamaterials
  • Microwave Metamaterials
  • Nanomaterials and Nanocomposites
  • Optical, Infra-red and THz Photonics and Plasmonics
  • Quantum Metamaterials
  • Wave Theory and Spatial Transformations

Please visit www.exeter.ac.uk/metamaterials to learn more about our centre and see the full list of projects that we have on offer this year.

International students are welcome to apply: fees and project costs will be paid, but the stipend can only be provided in exceptional circumstances.  We encourage international scholarship applicants or recipients to contact us directly prior to making their application (metamaterials@exeter.ac.uk).

Statement of Research

Joint supervisors:  Prof Monica Craciun, Prof Saverio Russo

External supervisor: Prof Stephen Eichhorn (University of Bristol)

Industrial partner: Centexbel

Currently devices for wearable electronics are emerging1, but the energy harvesting and storage devices available nowadays are inadequate to be integrated into the textile and fibres for wearable electronics. Most of the portable electronic devices are driven by Li-ion batteries which are hard and stiff, and therefore cannot withstand bending or stretching without breaking. In addition, Li-ion batteries require daily charging from a power source, a technology that is incompatible with wearables. For advancing wearable electronics it is crucial to develop self-charging devices on textiles that are integrated with a wide range of wearable devices.

Human-generated mechanical energy is a ubiquitous energy source, but is generally wasted. Emerging technologies for harvesting human energy convert mechanical energy into electricity using piezoelectric, pyroelectric, and triboelectric2 effects. Among them, the triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG), having a laminated structure of several materials, converts mechanical energy into electricity using the coupling effects between triboelectrification and electrostatic induction. The working principle requires two dissimilar surfaces to be oppositely charged upon contact. Compared to other technologies, TENGs have advantages of low cost, high efficiency, high power density, light weight, and great manufacturability3. However, this field is still in its infancy and more research is needed to develop and implement TENGs as self-charging devices on textiles.

This project aims to develop TENG devices for wearable electronics. Graphene and nanocellulose, materials that combine outstanding mechanical, electrical, and triboelectric properties with bio- and textile compatibility will be investigated. Graphene has excellent mechanical4, electrical5, optical6, thermal7 conductivity, chemical resistance8, coating compatibility with textiles9, and its properties can be enhanced to unprecedented levels through chemical and physical bonding of different elements to its surface10 (i.e. graphene functionalisation). Although the first steps have been recently achieved towards the use of graphene in TENG11,12, i.e. as an electrode, as a triboelectric material, the technology is still far away from becoming smart clothing.

The functionalization of graphene which will be investigated in this project will open the way to tailor desired triboelectric properties and surface morphologies.  Cellulose, the most abundant natural polymer on Earth, is another excellent candidate as triboelectric material, bringing unprecedented natural degradability, recyclability and biocompatibility to TENG systems. Nanocellulose-based mesoporous structures will be of particular interest for mechanical energy harvesters13. Taking advantage of the abundant hydroxyl groups on cellulose molecules, nanocellulose structures will be functionalized via simple wet-chemistry reactions and their electrical properties will be drastically tuned. This will allow to rationally tune the triboelectric polarity for TENG applications13. Finally, nanostructuring the materials to produce a metasurface in a TENG device will be used to amplify the produced energy by increasing the contact area of the surfaces and thus to enhance the power output.

The student will benefit from the CDT cohort by having access to outstanding experimental characterisation facilities and to the stimulating intellectual environment being able to connect to related research projects in the metamaterials themes.

1 Trung et al. Adv. Mater. (2016) 28, 4338;
2 Zi et al. Adv. Mater. (2015) 27, 2340;
3 Wang et al. ACS nano (2013) 7, 9533;
4 Lee et al. Science (2008) 321, 385;
5 Murali et al. Appl. Phys. Letters (2009) 94, 243114;
6 Nair et al. Science (2008) 320, 1208;
7 Balandin et al. Nano Letters (2008) 8, 902;
8 Kahng et al. Nanotechnology (2012) 23, 075702;
9 Neves et al. Sci. Rep. (2015) 7, 09866;
10 Khrapach et al. Adv. Mater. (2012) 24, 2844;
11 Huang et al Sci. Rep. (2015) 5, 13942;
12 Chu et al. Nano Energy (2016);
13 Small 2017, 1702240.

About XM2

Metamaterials are fabricated microstructures having properties beyond those found in nature. They are an important new class of electromagnetic and acoustic materials with applications in many technology areas: energy storage and improved efficiency, imaging, communications, sensing and the much-hyped ‘cloaking’. Having recruited nearly 70 new PhD researchers in its first four years, the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (XM2) hosted by the University of Exeter (www.exeter.ac.uk/metamaterials) will admit its fifth cohort of PhD students in September 2018.

The first year of the studentship includes an assessed, stand alone project, and a substantial programme of training. Students will choose from a wide range of taught modules, and participate in academic and personal development skills-based workshops, together with creativity events and conference-style meetings. The cohort will also be expected to disseminate their results to the international community via high-impact publications and international conferences. They will spend time working with our academic and industrial partners.  Full details of the programme are available here, or download a copy of our prospectus.

The University of Exeter combines world class research with excellent student satisfaction. It is a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive universities. Formed in 1955, the University has over 20,000 students from more than 130 different countries. Its success is built on a strong partnership with its students and a clear focus on high performance. Recent breakthroughs to come out of Exeter's research include the identification and treatment of new forms of diabetes and the creation of the world's most transparent, lightweight and flexible conductor of electricity. Exeter is ranked amongst the UK’s top 10 universities in the Higher Education league tables produced by the Times and the Sunday Times. It is also ranked amongst the world’s top 200 universities in the QS and Times Higher Education rankings.


Application deadline:31st March 2018
Number of awards:1
Value:Approximately £90,000, including research and travel budget, tuition fees and stipend (approximately [£14,500/£16,500] payable to UK or EU students only)
Duration of award:per year
Contact: Prof. Alastair Hibbins (Admissions Tutor)metamaterials@exeter.ac.uk

How to apply

Application criteria

During the application process you will need to upload the documents listed below. Please prepare these before starting the application process.

  • A statement describing why you would like to study for a PhD in Physics or Engineering,
  • A statement describing why you are considering a PhD programme that offers a cohort-based doctoral training model,
  • An academic CV,
  • A cover letter that discusses your preferred area(s) of study and/or your interest in a particular project/supervisor,
  • A document outlining your research interests and any relevant expertise,
  • Degree transcript(s) giving information about the qualification awarded, the modules taken during the study period, and the marks for each module taken,
  • The contact details of two academic referees.

Please note that of all the projects advertised we expect, as a Centre, to fill 15-20 posts only.

Shortlisting and interviews

Applications will be reviewed by members of the XM2 management board and candidates will be short-listed against a set of agreed criteria to ensure quality while maintaining diversity. Failure to include all the the elements above may result in rejection. Criteria will include:


  • Excellence in a lower degree in a relevant discipline;
  • Excellence in written and oral skills in English;
  • Evidence of knowledge of XM2 ethos, research themes and/or supervisors.


  • Specialist knowledge about one or more XM2 topics;
  • Research outputs (e.g. papers) and/or has undertaken training in research methodology (e.g. undergraduate research projects);
  • Ability to work collaboratively

Short-listed candidates will be interviewed by a panel of two academic members of staff drawn from the management board. If successful, a second interview will be undertaken by the potential academic supervisors for the student concerned. Offers are normally made shortly after a successful second interview.