2 PhD Positions: Designing intelligence in battery-less micromechanical structures

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WorkplaceZurich, Zurich region, Switzerland
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2 PhD Positions: Designing intelligence in battery-less micromechanical structures

100%, Zurich, fixed-term



Intelligent devices are everywhere (in sensors monitoring infrastructure, in medical prostheses, wearables and smart speakers). However, their autonomy is severely constrained by the need for large batteries, which also have a negative environmental impact. A recent study forecasted that, by 2025, we will be throwing away 80 million batteries a day. We are looking for two Ph.D. students to overcome this challenge using intelligent micromechanical systems.

In the same way that automatic Swiss watches power themselves from the motion of the wearer, we will design and make (micro)-mechanical computing elements that use energy from ambient vibrations - without the need for power wires or batteries. These elements will rely on geometric nonlinearities to perform complex tasks. In fact, while nonlinearity is usually avoided in mechanical designs, here we will leverage it to achieve unprecedented computational capabilities: by combining nonlinear elements as ’lego pieces’ a targeted response will be achieved.


Project background


Complex computations will require divisions into subtasks. Therefore, two distinct yet interconnected projects are proposed:

Project 1: Mechanical harvesting of ambient vibrations. The student will design micro-mechanical systems that can harvest stochastic (random) ambient vibrations and convert the resulting energy in the oscillation of a resonator or in the deformation of an elastic structure.

Project 2: Reprogrammable micromechanical computers. The student will design micro-mechanical structures capable of processing information by using nonlinear phenomena such as buckling and instabilities.

The outcome of the two projects leads building blocks that, when combined, can perform logical operations solely relying on mechanical energy.

For both projects the work will be mostly theoretical and numerical. State-of-the art modeling and reduction techniques will serve the design process. The concepts will be validated in laser-cut or 3D printed prototypes. The resulting designs will be micro-fabricated in a cleanroom by an additional team member later. The project is a collaboration between ETH Zürich and the AMOLF Institute in Amsterdam, the Netherlands (Dr. Marc Serra Garcia). Students will be based at ETH, and will make several visits to AMOLF to conduct experiments.


Job description


The tasks of the student will be:

  • Design mechanical structures that use nonlinear elasticity to perform computations using ambient energy
  • Develop efficient simulation algorithms capable of tackling complex devices consisting of thousands of parts
  • Conducting table-top experiments to validate the concepts

The envisioned starting date is October/November 2024.


Your profile


We are looking for two students with experience (or strong interest to learn) in the topics of:

  • Finite Element Method (FEM) simulation, specifically nonlinear FEM
  • Model reduction and substructuring component mode synthesis methods
  • Nonlinear and stochastic dynamics
  • Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS)
  • Digital logic and physical computing

Furthermore, we expect excellent command of English, both written and oral. An open, creative and independent attitude is an important asset for both positions.



We offer

We offer the opportunity to pursue a high-quality PhD at a renowned institution in a vibrant and collaborative research group. The position also bears the opportunity for research stay the AMOLF Insittute.

Working, teaching and research at ETH Zurich

We value diversity


In line with our values , ETH Zurich encourages an inclusive culture. We promote equality of opportunity, value diversity and nurture a working and learning environment in which the rights and dignity of all our staff and students are respected. Visit our Equal Opportunities and Diversity website to find out how we ensure a fair and open environment that allows everyone to grow and flourish.



Curious? So are we.


We look forward to receiving your online application including the following documents:

  • CV
  • Transcripts from all university-level courses undertaken
  • A motivation letter clearly indicating which of the two projects you are interested in

Questions regarding the position should be directed to Dr. Paolo Tiso, Tel 0041 (0)44 632 36 41 or email ptisoethz.ch (no applications).



Apply online now





ETH Zurich is one of the world’s leading universities specialising in science and technology. We are renowned for our excellent education, cutting-edge fundamental research and direct transfer of new knowledge into society. Over 30,000 people from more than 120 countries find our university to be a place that promotes independent thinking and an environment that inspires excellence. Located in the heart of Europe, yet forging connections all over the world, we work together to develop solutions for the global challenges of today and tomorrow.



In your application, please refer to myScience.ch and reference JobID 64579.


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