You are here: HomeNewsNewsCall for Admission to the Phd in Biorobotics – Deadline: June 15, 2017

No. 2 Scholarships co-funded by Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (Pisa) and Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn (Naples) on Marine Biorobotics


The Ph.D. Program in BioRobotics is a three-year course of advanced studies and supervised research; at the end of the Program, the Ph.D. degree is conferred to students who have fulfilled the didactic requirements and passed a final examination with thesis dissertation.

The Ph.D. Program aims at educating highly competent researchers with the potential to be leaders in this area. The students will be educated in a stimulating and multidisciplinary environment, both through high-level courses and through demanding, creative and original research work. Doctoral research projects will be carried out in very well equipped, state-of-the-art laboratories (in such fields as bio-robotics, micro- and nanotechnology, biomimetics, prosthetics) and through individual and team work performed under the supervision of a committed full-time faculty. The students will investigate how biological systems work from an engineering viewpoint, and will make use of such knowledge to pursue challenging research projects aimed at modeling, designing and building novel components and systems for biomedical applications.
At the end of the Ph.D. Program, students will possess solid scientific and engineering skills, the ability to conceive and carry out original research projects, and an autonomous entrepreneurship spirit.

Research Topic # 1 - Microrobotic system inspired by marine organisms

The aim of this PhD project is to take inspiration from nature and in particular from a Phylum of marine organisms (Annelida) towards the design ofImage 1 high dexterity and high performance microrobots to be employed in different fields, but resulting particularly interesting when foreseeing medical applications.

An anatomically simple, high motility organism can represent a valid inspiration towards the dream to develop smart micromachines able to navigate or meander across the body lumina and to perform desired therapeutic tasks directly in the region of interest. Biopsy, microsurgery and targeted drug delivery are just examples of medical procedures that could benefit from the conceived bioinspired design and by high dexterity, despite of the reduced dimensions.

The candidate will work in strong collaboration with engineers (from Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna - https://www.santannapisa.it/en/institute/biorobotics/surgical-robotics-and-allied-technologies-area) and marine biologists (from Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn di Napoli - http://www.szn.it/index.php/it/). The starting point will be a deep cross-fertilization between engineering and biology: the first one will provide useful tools to the latter for a better understanding of marine organisms’ behavior, functions and performances; on the other hand the acquired biological knowledge will provide specifications and inspiration while conceiving novel smart microsystems.

Research Topic # 2 - Benthic soft robots inspired by marine organisms

The aim of this PhD project is to take as a reference a biological model (animals from the phylum of Arthropoda, subphylum Crustacea) to create anImage 2 innovative underwater soft robots with augmented environment interaction capabilities. Current underwater vehicles and systems (i.e. AUVs, USV, ROVs, gliders, etc.) demonstrate great locomotion capabilities yet their interaction with underwater structures, rocks, and substrates is poorly performed. On the other hand, recent advancements in the field of soft robotics pushed forward the interaction skills of autonomous systems. By exploiting their compliance, soft robots can safely interact with the seafloor, reefs, underwater structures or other substrates. A key factor in robot-environment interaction relies on the compliance of the robot itself: structures with intrinsic soft components absorb, store, and release energy to provide safe and effective interaction with the environment. The final goal of this PhD project should be the development of autonomous soft robots with augmented capabilities for the exploration and sampling of the benthic zone.

Specific objectives of this project are (i) to investigate locomotion of soft underwater robots, by taking in to account deformation of the mechanism/body; (ii) to derive a reduced-order model to describe soft locomotion; (iii) to build a prototype that demonstrates capabilities and/or advantages of compliant locomotion. This prototype will also carries novel underwater sensors to analyse and inspect the substrate and, as a specific example, it will collect living organisms in the sediment to perform genomic analysis, construct DNA libraries and sequence DNA fragments through High Throughput Sequencing Oxford nanopore technology.

The candidate will benefit from a multi-disciplinary tutoring by engineers (from Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna - https://www.santannapisa.it/en/institute/biorobotics/soft-robotics-area) and marine biologists (from Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn di Napoli - http://www.szn.it/index.php/it/), and the PhD project will be carried in close collaboration between these two institutions. From the engineering side, tools and methods will be provided to achieve a deeper understanding of marine organisms’ behaviour, capabilities, and mathematical model describing the system; from the biological side, fundamental principles of locomotion, living system knowledge, and biological mechanisms will provide insights and specifications to conceive the novel underwater soft robot.

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