ITN Marie Curie PhD scholarships: Manufacturing of Medical Devices


The SIMPPER_MedDev project involves a consortium of 5 leading European research universities from Ireland, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland and the Netherlands, along with 10 industry partners who manufacture important classes of medical devices and products, and one of Europe’s premier orthopaedics hospitals. The consortium intends to train 12 PhD researchers in advanced manufacturing and surface integrity associated with the micro/nano processing of polymers for such medical devices. These 12 manufacturing PhD projects are grouped according to whether the processes are either additive, subtractive or forming, while the applications relate to prostheses and implants, and devices for drug delivery and medical diagnostics.  Funding for these projects has been provided by the EU under their competitive H2020 MSCA-ITN-2020 (Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Networks) programme under Grant Agreement No. 956097.

The consortium is now inviting applications for up to 12 highly motivated and talented PhD candidates (Early Stage Researchers, ESRs) for these fully-funded positions, as summarised below. Recruitment will remain open until all positions are filled in 2021.  The target start dates for the first positions will be in February-March 2021. ESRs will be employed on a full-time basis and based at one of eight particular host institutions.  They will also spend up to 6-months on secondment at partner organisations, thereby ensuring that all ESRs will spend time in both academia and industry, and in at least two different countries.

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This position has now been filled.

Host/employer: University College Dublin, Ireland

Supervisors: Dr Nan Zhang & Prof Michael Gilchrist []

Secondments: 6 months in industry (Ireland and Italy)

Current bioresorbable stents are either made from Poly (L-Lactic Acid) (PLLA) or magnesium. However, PLLA is brittle and has low strength and stiffness, and degrades unevenly, which causes a high rate of thrombosis and other complications compared to drug eluting stents (DES). A magnesium stent has superior mechanical properties, but has problems of in-stent restenosis and late stent recoil as it degrades and the degradation is still faster than required. This ESR project aims to develop a novel hybrid stent with a strong magnesium core and a polymer surface coating (poly-l-lactide-co-ε-caprolactone; PLCL) to control degradation. This will involve precision fabrication of micro/nano scale patterns using processes such as lithography, electrochemical etching and plasma treatment.

This position has been filled.

Host/employer: University College Dublin, Ireland

Supervisors: Prof Michael Gilchrist & Dr Nan Zhang []

Secondments: 6 months in industry (Netherlands and Switzerland)

Immunoassays using microfluidic devices are receiving much attention because various analytes can be targeted using antibodies for specific molecules. Several immunoassays have been developed into point-of-care testing systems, the performance of which depends on stable immobilisation of antibodies in microchannels. Issues of scale-up for high-volume production using injection moulding, and the integration of proteins with various polymer materials are not yet clear.  ESR 2 will develop a novel production strategy to immobilise proteins using micro/nano structures with suitable polymer materials. This project will involve using mass production technologies and injection moulding with a multiscale mould.

This position has been filled.

Host/employer: University College Dublin, Ireland

Supervisors: Dr Nan Zhang & Prof Michael Gilchrist []

Secondments: 6 months in Denmark and Italy (academia and industry)

Organ-on-a-chip technology simulates the main functions of particular human organs. They can advance 3D cell culture, drug screening and disease modelling, although the technology is still in the early stages of development. The chips are mostly fabricated using polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) or commercial plastic materials, which have weak permeability or biocompatibility. Hydrogels are promising alternatives as they are used widely in tissue engineering. ESR3 aims to develop 3D bio-printing technology using hydrogels for multi-scale vasculature-on-a-chip models. 3D printing methods based on extrusion and digital light processing, will be analysed and selected based on the possibility to include three-layered cells and extracellular matrix.

This position has been filled.

Host/employer: Becton Dickinson, BD, Ireland

Supervisors: Dr Steve Beguin [] & Prof Michael Gilchrist []

Secondments: 6 months in Ireland and Italy (academia and industry) 

Microstructured functional surfaces have broad functionality, such as hydrophobicity, drag, contact angle and light scattering. Currently, low friction on extruded and injection moulded medical devices can be achieved via surface coatings, lubricants, additives, or modifications to the base material. While this improves performance, it requires additional manufacturing steps, can cause flaking or deteriorate during use, and may also degrade the base material and is incompatible with some proteins. ESR4’s project will provide a one-step low friction solution for fabrication of insulin pen injector solely by using microstructures. This will avoid chemical coatings or lubricants and poses no problems of biocompatibility in a totally new solution compared to existing technology.

This position has been filled.

Host/employer: Technical University Denmark, DTU

Supervisors: Prof Aminul Islam & Prof Yang Zhang []

Secondments: 6 months in Denmark and Netherlands (industry and academia)

This ESR project aims to develop a digital process to design and produce hearing aid Earmoulds/Domes. A digital production and process control method will provide better acoustic performance, comfort and tactile perception, with sufficient retention force, better aesthetic appearance and antibacterial properties. The textured surface topography will prevent contamination and provide sufficient retention force with comfort. This potential for part surfaces has not been exploited thus far by hearing aid manufacturers. With a digitally driven manufacturing approach and the integration of smart surfaces, a single design approach (E-domes) will be established that will provide the benefits of both the moulds and domes, thereby eliminating their shortcomings.

This position has been filled.

Host/employer: Novo Nordisk, Denmark

Supervisors: Dr Jesper Bøgelund [] & Prof Yang Zhang []

Secondments: 6 months in Denmark and Ireland (academia)

The EU has declared biobased products a priority area with potential for high annual growth of 20% while addressing many challenges of polymer products. Many of the current commercial biopolymers have low flowability and a relatively low glass transition temperature. The demoulding process is often difficult and crystallisation behaviour is affected by the moulding process. A prolonged packing and cooling stage can be a solution, but this is not favoured by industry due to the resulted longer cycle times.  ESR6 will explore how enhanced properties of novel biobased polymers achieved by precision manufacturing processes can be exploited in devices for medical applications. Candidate materials will be acquired and processed into test specimens and component prototypes for testing and analysis.

Host/employer: University of Applied Sciences & Arts, Northwestern Switzerland, FHNW

Supervisors: Prof. Magnus Kristiansen [] & Dr Nan Zhang []

Secondments: 6 months in industry and academia (Switzerland and Ireland)

A fundamental understanding of the different effects and their interplay is required to improve the microstructures achieved by laser processing amorphous thermoplastic materials. Using different laser sources (ps UV, fs, lasers), ESR7 will study the ablation physics of polymers in detail so as to allow for the development of suitable writing strategies to texture transparent polymers with good surface quality. In the case of high-performance polymers, the focus will be on achieving robust master structures with good surface quality that are able to withstand small series of injection moulding trials (few 100 parts) without significant deterioration.

Host/employer: University of Twente, Netherlands

Supervisors: Dr Matthias Feinaeugle & Prof. GW Römer []

Secondments: 6 months in industry and academia (Netherlands and Denmark)

Laser-induced forward transfer (LIFT) is an innovative Additive Manufacturing (AM) process in which a small volume (e.g. 5 femtolitre) of a thin donor film is transferred to a substrate via a laser. Recent progress in this area has been reported in the fields of biomedicine and metal deposition. Some initial research has been carried out to combine metals and polymers, crucial for flexible electronics or multi-material printing. Despite these efforts, LIFT of pure metals directly onto curved polymers with high mutual adhesion is challenging, because of the different physical properties and phases undergone during the process. These challenges need to be overcome to obtain high mechanical stability, reproducibility and good adhesion for medical devices in an economically viable fashion.

Host/employer: University of Twente, Netherlands

Supervisor: Prof. GW Römer []

Secondments: 6 months in industry and academia (Netherlands and Switzerland)

Laser processing with ultrashort pulses (in the pico- and femtosecond regime) allows for contactless structuring of surfaces on the micrometer and nanometer scale. It is an accurate, fast and flexible technique to modify (functionalise) surfaces without the risk of thermal, chemical or microbial ‘contamination’. However, laser-matter interaction of polymers is challenging due to their complex molecular structure and common optical transparency for most wavelengths except UV. Therefore, there is a lack of theoretical and practical understanding of laser treatment of those polymers. ESR9’s project is an attempt to establish the knowledge needed to process this class of materials. Further, upscaling laser-surface texturing from the lab to industrial production scale is not trivial, as ultrashort pulsed laser machining is not a linear process.

Host/employer: Micronit, Netherlands

Supervisors: Dr Maciej Skolimowski [] & Prof. GW Römer []

Secondments: 6 months in academia and industry (Netherlands and Ireland)

A crucial step to produce any microfluidic device is either reversible sealing or permanent bonding of the microfluidic channels and chambers. Typically, the dimensions of the seal/bond are too large and/or employ heat, adhesives, or UV radiation which affect the surface integrity and bulk of the material. This makes laser welding, known for (very) localised heating, particularly suitable for these applications. The main innovation of this project lies in the high-resolution laser welding of medical-grade polymers. Unprecedented confined local heating will be achieved, when ps or fs pulsed lasers, operating below the ablation fluence threshold, are used to seal/bond the material. This work will directly benefit manufacturers of analytical lab-on-a-chip devices.

Host/employer: University of Padua, Italy

Supervisors: Profs Giovanni Lucchetta & Stefania Bruschi []

Secondments: 6 months in industry (Italy and Ireland)

The use of pre-filled syringes for parenteral administration of medications has grown substantially. Syringes are coated with silicone, as low-friction combined with smooth movement is a vital characteristic for drug-delivery devices. However, silicone can interact with proteins and lead to aggregation. Recently, laser-induced periodic surface structures (LIPSS) have become of interest because they permit tuning of tribological properties. This ESR project aims to develop a silicone-free pre-filled plastic syringe with internal LIPSS to minimise friction. The originality and innovative aspects of this project pertain to replicating surface nano structures by compression moulding and precisely moulding syringes with very thin wall thicknesses that maximise transparency.

Host/employer: University of Padua, Italy

Supervisors: Profs Stefania Bruschi & Giovanni Lucchetta []

Secondments: 6 months in industry & academia (Italy and Denmark)

Machining of polymer materials has become more widespread in industry because injection, extrusion, or compression moulding processes do not always provide the required geometric accuracy of the manufactured parts. Direct machining processes are highly accuracy and inherently flexible. However, the use of conventional cutting fluids usually provokes continuous chips that entangle the machine tool, leads to heating of the workpiece surface, and worsens surface integrity. ESR12’s project will focus on the mechanics of chip formation when using liquid nitrogen as a cooling medium when machining polymeric materials. The influence of machining temperature on the thermo-mechanical behaviour of the polymer material will be correlated, in terms of possible crystallinity changes as a consequence of using the low-temperature coolant.


Benefits and Funding

Successful candidates will be employed for a maximum period of three years full-time equivalent and receive a generous financial package plus an additional mobility and family allowance according to the rules for Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) in an EU Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions Innovative Training Networks (ITN). ESRs will be employed either by a university or a partner company.

A career development plan will be prepared for each fellow in accordance with his/her supervisor and will include training, planned secondments and outreach activities in partner organisations of the network. The ESR fellows are supposed to complete their PhD thesis by the end of the 3rd year of their employment.

For more information please visit the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions Innovative Training Networks website.

Employment Conditions

The Marie Sklodowska -Curie programme offers highly competitive and attractive salary and working conditions. The selected candidates are employed with a full-time contract. The salary follows the Marie Curie- Sklodowska ITN funding Scheme. Exact salary will be confirmed upon appointment. It consists of a living allowance (approximately €4,000 per month, depending on the hosting country) plus an additional monthly mobility and family allowance depending on the family situation. General information is available at this link[1].

Eligibility and Mobility

Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions Innovative Training Networks (ITN) eligibility criteria apply (summary below, for more detailed information please see this link[2].)

  • All researchers recruited in a Marie Sklodowska-Curie ITN must be Early-Stage Researchers (ESRs). An ESR shall, at the time of recruitment by the host organisation, be in the first four years (full-time equivalent research experience) of their research careers and have not been awarded a doctoral degree.
  • Date of Recruitment normally means the first day of the employment of the fellow for the purposes of the project (i.e. the starting date indicated in the employment contract or equivalent direct contract).
  • Researchers can be of any nationality.
  • There is no age limit.
  • Researchers are required to undertake transnational mobility (i.e. move from one country to another) when taking up their appointment. One general rule applies to the appointment of researchers: at the time of recruitment by the host beneficiary, researchers must not have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in the country of their host beneficiary for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately prior to the reference date. Note that the mobility rule applies to the beneficiary where the researcher is recruited, and not to beneficiaries to which the researcher is sent or seconded.
  • For all recruitment, the eligibility and mobility of the researcher will be determined at the time of their (first) recruitment in the project. The status of the researcher will not evolve over the life-time of a contract.

Specific requirements for the SIMPPER_MedDev network:

  • Applicants must hold a Master’s degree in a relevant branch of engineering, manufacturing, physics or chemistry, as appropriate to their specific project topic.
  • Applications from suitably qualified female applicants are particularly welcome.
  • Each beneficiary organisation might have additional eligibility criteria, e.g. work/study visa, language or other requirements. These will be clarified in the second stage of the application process.

An ESR’s Key Responsibilities:

  • To manage and carry out their research projects within 36 months
  • To write a PhD thesis
  • To participate in research and training activities within the SIMPPER_MedDev network
  • To write articles for scientific peer reviewed journals
  • To participate in meetings of the different SIMPPER_MedDev consortium bodies
  • To disseminate their research in the scientific community (international conferences) and non-scientific community, by outreach and public engagement
  • To liaise with the other research staff and students working in broad areas of relevance to the research project and partner institutions.
  • To write progress reports and prepare results for publication and dissemination via public lectures, presentations and the web.

How to Apply:

To begin the process, please first read the descriptions of the ESR topic. The topic is not firmly fixed, and it may change as the successful candidate develops their PhD proposal. The topic is intended as general guidance rather than a precise description of what your research may entail. 

Next, write a letter of application addressed to Dr Nan Zhang and Prof. Michael Gilchrist, project coordinators. Please send application letters in PDF format by email to In your application, you should:

  • introduce yourself, explaining your motivation to join the ITN project network, and indicate your preferred project topics (ranked #1, #2 and #3);
  • describe your previous relevant experience and your best project/research work to date;
  • enclose an updated CV including prior education and all publications;
  • confirm that you meet the criteria for ESRs under the EU rules[3].