PhD Position Turning Odd Active Matter into Robots

Faculty/Services:  Faculty of Science
Educational level:  Master
Function type:  PhD position
Closing date:  31 Maart 2023
Vacancy number:  10926



Can we create animate synthetic materials that are simultaneously adaptive, active and autonomous? This dream has over the past years become tangible, thanks to the advent of robotic matter. Robotic matter combines the collective effects of condensed matter with the power of robotics and exhibits animate functionalities, such as pattern formation, controlled modification of the environment and locomotion. It opens exciting prospects for our fundamental understanding of far-from-equilibrium phenomena and for nascent applications such as non-invasive surgery or extra-terrestrial exploration—which demand materials to locomote without external control in complex and unpredictable environments. Despite these major developments in robotic matter, its properties remain hard to predict.

In this PhD project, you will surpass this limitation by laying the foundations of a new class of odd robotic matter. Odd active matter is a special type of active matter in which basic principles like Newton’s 3rd law and the symmetry of elastic tensors are broken by design and where far-from-equilibrium phenomena like unidirectional wave amplification emerge. Revisiting classical mechanics in the absence of such principles allows us to predict the large-scale behaviour of odd robotic matter in principle. Yet only its linear, defect-free response without influences from the environment has been studied and observed so far.


What are you going to do?


In this PhD project, you will combine desktop-scale experiments, numerics and theory to generalise odd active matter in the presence of (1) nonlinearities and (2) topological defects. You will strategically use these to achieve (3) autonomous and adaptable locomotion in complex and unpredictable environments.


Odd active matter will provide new guidelines for the design of animate functionalities. It will also bring conceptual tools for continuum mechanics, nonlinear wave physics and topological physics in novel fundamental settings—where basic symmetries are broken—which are relevant at vastly different scales, from open quantum and photonic systems, to metamaterials, active matter and living organisms.


What do you have to offer?


Do you have a creative, curious and driven nature? Are you eager to combine numerical simulations, theory and experiments? You relish working in a team?

You are currently studying towards a Master’s degree in physics, mathematics, engineering, computational science or a related field?


Our offer


A temporary contract for 38 hours per week for the duration of 4 years (the initial contract will be for a period of 18 months and after satisfactory evaluation it will be extended for a total duration of 4 years). The starting date is to be agreed upon by mutual agreement with the successful applicant. This should lead to a dissertation (PhD thesis). We will draft an educational plan that includes attendance of courses and (international) meetings. We also expect you to assist in teaching undergraduates and master students.


The gross monthly salary, based on 38 hours per week and dependent on relevant experience, ranges between € 2,541 to € 3,247 (scale P). This does not include 8% holiday allowance and 8,3% year-end allowance. A favourable tax agreement, the ‘30% ruling’, may apply to non-Dutch applicants. The Collective Labour Agreement of Universities of the Netherlands is applicable.


Besides the salary and a vibrant and challenging environment at Science Park we offer you multiple fringe benefits:

  • 232 holiday hours per year (based on fulltime) and extra holidays between Christmas and 1 January;
  • multiple courses to follow from our Teaching and Learning Centre;
  • a complete educational program for PhD students;
  • multiple courses on topics such as leadership for academic staff;
  • multiple courses on topics such as time management, handling stress and an online learning platform with 100+ different courses;
  • 7 weeks birth leave (partner leave) with 100% salary;
  • partly paid parental leave;
  • the possibility to set up a workplace at home;
  • a pension at ABP for which UvA pays two third part of the contribution;
  • the possibility to follow courses to learn Dutch;
  • help with housing for a studio or small apartment when you’re moving from abroad.

Are you curious to read more about our extensive package of secondary employment benefits, take a look here.


About us


The University of Amsterdam is the Netherlands' largest university, offering the widest range of academic programmes. At the UvA, 30,000 students, 6,000 staff members and 3,000 PhD candidates study and work in a diverse range of fields, connected by a culture of curiosity.


The Faculty of Science has a student body of around 8,000, as well as 1,800 members of staff working in education, research or support services. Researchers and students at the Faculty of Science are fascinated by every aspect of how the world works, be it elementary particles, the birth of the universe or the functioning of the brain.


Institute of Physics

The PhD project will be carried out at the Machine Materials Laboratory, headed by Dr Corentin Coulais, and part of the Soft Matter Group within the Institute of Physics of the University of Amsterdam (UvA). The laboratory has recently pioneered the field of active metamaterials (see recent articles) and benefits from an exceptional scientific environment, in soft and condensed matter, computational physics and advanced materials.   


Want to know more about our organisation? Read more about working at the University of Amsterdam.


Any questions?


Do you have any questions or do you require additional information? Please contact:

T: +31 2052507224


Job application


If you feel the profile fits you, and you are interested in the job, we look forward to receiving your application. You can apply online via the button below. We accept applications until and including 31 March 2023. Applications will be processed on a rolling basis, and the position will remain open until a suitable candidate has been identified.


Applications should include the following information (all files besides your cv should be submitted in one single pdf file):


  • a detailed CV including the months (not just years) when referring to your education and work experience and a list of grades;
  • a motivation letter, the motivation letter should state explicitly why you are specifically interested in the field of odd active matter;
  • a pdf version of your MSc thesis (or if not finalized yet, an abstract);
  • If applicable, pdf versions of your scientific publications;
  • the name and email address of at least two references, who will be asked for their recommendation letters when you are shortlisted.


Only complete applications received within the response period via the link below will be considered.


The interviews will be held in the course of March and April 2023.


To foster diversity in our research group, we will especially appreciate applications from female candidates.



The UvA is an equal-opportunity employer. We prioritize diversity and are committed to creating an inclusive environment for everyone. We value a spirit of enquiry and perseverance, provide the space to keep asking questions, and promote a culture of curiosity and creativity.


No agencies please.