PhD Position in Soft Robotics

Catholic University of Leuven Department of Mechanical Engineering


The soft robotics research group, is the newest addition to the Department of Mechanical Engineering at KU Leuven. Our group focuses on exploring the intersection of soft robotics, mechanical instabilities and (micro)fabrication, where the greater goal is to create interactive soft robotic matter. We envision to embody functionality throughout the hardware of soft robots, to make them respond to environmental triggers without software control. Applications of this technology are widespread, ranging from surgical tools that navigate inside the body without collisions, to haptic interfaces for virtual and augmented reality. The aim of the group is to revolutionize the robotic world by introducing flexible materials in the design, going from hard to soft robots and from software to hardware intelligence.


This PhD project will be part of the ERC starting grant of prof. Benjamin Gorissen, on building interactive fluidic state machines for soft robotics, called project ILUMIS.

About ILUMIS: Actuation, energy storage, sensing, and logic are four functionalities of both natural and artificial organisms, giving them the ability to thrive in their environment. As demonstrated in nature by the common octopus, the distribution of these four functionalities throughout the body creates a blueprint for autonomous and intelligent behavior. This concept of ‘functional embodiment’ is currently non-existing in soft robotics. ILUMIS will create soft robots with embodied functionality by transitioning from a conventional robotic architecture to a fluidic network architecture. Further, by incorporating nonlinearities in all the network elements, the global system acts as a state machine, meaning that the output not only depends on the input, but also on its internal state. How to navigate this state space will be encoded within the nonlinearities, creating embodied intelligence. ILUMIS will overcome the main challenges of inverse design, where a desired behavior requires the optimization of a network of nonlinear structures. Thereby ILUMIS will create a new blueprint for soft robotic design with embodied functionality that closes the gap with nature’s soft organisms.

This PhD project will focus on the fluid inside this fluidic network. You will explore avenues to change the compressibility characteristics of a fluid by incorporating hollow buckling shells, and explore how this will lead to new functionalities in soft robots. You will model the behavior of these fluids, and develop an inverse design framework to create functionality from their incorporated nonlinearities. Further, you will develop new production processes to fabricate these shells at the micro-meter scale, characterize their behavior, and create soft robots where the functionality originates from nonlinearities in the fluid. 


The ideal candidate fulfils the following requirements:

  • Master degree in (mechanical) engineering, physics, materials science or equivalent with distinction
  • Strong background in solid mechanics, micro-manufacturing (MEMS) 
  • Familiar with Matlab, CAD softwares and Finite Element modelling
  • Proficiency in English
  • The candidate must be creative, have good problem solving skills, should be ambitious but should above all be a team player! 


  • A doctoral scholarship of four years and, if successful, a PhD in Engineering Science
  • A full-time employment for four years, with an intermediate evaluation after one year
  • Benefits such as health insurance, access to university sports facilities, etc.
  • The opportunity to be active in an exciting and international research environment, engage in research collaborations and participate at international conferences
  • An excellent doctoral training at the Arenberg Doctoral School in an international environment at a top European university. This will allow you to gain the skills required to successfully complete your PhD, as well as develop yourself as an independent researcher. Moreover, opportunities are provided to acquire deeper knowledge in subjects related to the topic by participating in trainings, summer schools, or lecture series in- and outside of KU Leuven
  • Starting date: As soon as possible 


For more information please contact Prof. dr. ir. Benjamin Gorissen through e-mail:

To apply, use the KU Leuven online application platform (applications by email are not considered). Please include:

a) an academic CV and a PDF of your diplomas and transcript of course work and grades

b) a statement of research interests and career goals (max 2pages), indicating why you are interested in this position

c) a sample of technical writing, e.g. a paper with you as main author, or your master’s thesis

d) A brief report (max 2 pages in PDF) covering your solution to the research problem that can be found here:
You can apply for this job no later than April 15, 2023 via the
KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at
  • Employment percentage: Voltijds
  • Location: Leuven
  • Apply before: April 15, 2023
  • Tags: Werktuigkunde
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In your application, please refer to