4D printed composite morphing structures

4D printed actuators transform energy into mechanical motion in response to specific stimuli. They are employed to conduct a range of unique tasks such as self-assembling, and conceive compact systems with a low manufacturing and maintenance costs. Previous investigations by our research group have focused on the development of novel multifunctional soft polymers with an integrated electro-thermo-mechanical control system, providing a platform for embedded artificial intelligence motors. This technology may not be suitable to meet the high loading requirements of the space sector, particularly in cases where heavy-duty robots and the deployment of large structures subjected to high torques are necessary. This limitation arises from the inherent trade-off between compliance and stiffness in traditional structural materials. Shape-changing objects require a certain level of compliance to undergo large rotations and deformations, which is often at odds with the requirements for structural integrity and load-bearing capabilities.


Aim and Objectives of the proposed PhD thesis:

This project aims to develop a fully instrumented 4D printed multifunctional composite actuator with improved loading capacity able to tailor its deformation autonomously. The actuator will be part of a close-loop control framework including: (i) a 3D printed embedded sensors, (ii) an electro-thermal 3D printed multifunctional composite actuator, and (iii) an integrated controller. We hypothesise that a novel hybrid actuator based on polymer/ unidirectional fibre composites layers will have superior load-carrying capacity at room temperature, while providing the necessary compliance when increasing the temperature during actuation.


The project entails three partial objectives:


Objective 1.

Manufacturing, instrumentation, verification and validation of 4D printed composite actuators.

Objective 2.

Development of a force-intensity-temperature-deformation close loop autonomous controller, including modelling by Finite Element Analysis.

Objective 3.

Development of prototypes, including deployable structures. Analysis of recovery rate, reversibility and performance.   


Acquired skills

The PhD student will have the opportunity to extent his knowledge in multifunctional materials, additive manufacturing, electro-thermo-mechanical testing, instrumentation & control, non-linear mechanics and computational mechanics. Multiple opportunities to develop soft skills and conduct scientific networking will be offered. 


Informal inquiries can be made to:

Further Information: 

The University of Edinburgh is committed to equality of opportunity for all its staff and students, and promotes a culture of inclusivity. Please see details here: https://www.ed.ac.uk/equality-diversity

Closing Date: 

Saturday, September 14, 2024
4D printed actuator

Principal Supervisor: 


Minimum entry qualification - an Honours degree at 2:1 or above (or International equivalent) in a relevant science or engineering discipline, possibly supported by an MSc Degree. Further information on English language requirements for EU/Overseas applicants.


Applications are welcomed from self-funded students, or students who are applying for scholarships from the University of Edinburgh or elsewhere. 

Further information and other funding options.

Informal Enquiries: