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Inducing molecular alignment in thermoelectric polymers for improved performance

The work will be performed in the group of “Surface and Interface Engineered Materials” (https://www.mtm.kuleuven.be/onderzoek/siem/SIEM) at the Department of Materials Engineering of KU Leuven, and under the direct supervision of Prof. F. Molina-Lopez.




Electronics & Engineering
Apply before: 15/08/2021

Thermoelectrics (TEs) are energy harvesters that convert waste heat into electrical energy and vice versa (they use electricity to provide active heating/cooling). Among the different classes of TE materials, organic TE materials present the advantages of being non-toxic, abundant and mechanically flexible. Therefore, organic thermoelectrics (OTEs) are perfect candidates to power wearable autonomous sensors integrated in smart textiles or even in direct contact with the skin. Such systems can find multiple applications in biomedicine and sports.

The use of printing technologies facilitates the manufacture of OTE materials over large areas. In particular, 3D printing is appealing because it allows the production of vertical structures with high aspect ratio and elaborated shapes. However, organic printed thermoelectrics suffer currently from low performances. Their performance depends not only on the material itself, but also on the way its molecules are arranged in the solid phase. The hypothesis of this project is that the re-arrangement of the molecules in a way that they are all oriented in the same direction (uniaxial molecular alignment) will lead toa boost in the thermoelectric performance of the organic material.

In this project, the PhD candidate is expected to:

  • Develop a theoretical model to describe the Electric Field Assisted Molecular Alignment (EFAMA) of 3D printing TE polymers.
  • Characterize the morphology (UV-Vis spectroscopy, GIWAXS, Raman…) of thin films and 3D printed thick films uniaxially aligned TE polymers.
  • Collaborate with other researchers in the group to characterize the thermoelectric performance of the materials and correlate it with the morphology. This will validate/refute the initial project hypothesis.

- Degree: Master degree in one of the following fields (or similar): Materials Science and Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Nanoscience and Nanoengineering or Applied Physics.

- Research experience: Master thesis work and/or experience in materials production techniques, material characterization, electrical instrumentation, microfabrication, or FEM modeling.

- Interests and research profile: The research topic is 80% experimental and 20% theoretical, and it bridges the fields of physics, materials sciences, electrical engineering and chemical engineering. Hence, the applicants are required to have an excellent proven background in engineering sciences, with good knowledge of fundamental concepts, and a strong hands-on attitude toward interdisciplinary research with emphasis on electronic polymers processing and characterization. In particular, the candidates must:

  • Enjoy lab work and be keen on material characterization of polymeric materials, with emphasis on electronic polymers. Experience in synchrotron X-ray diffraction is a plus.
  • Show strong interest for the link between experiments and fundamental concepts such as dielectrophoresis. Be willing to develop theoretical models describing the interaction between AC electric fields and matter. Knowledge of FEM or programming in MATLAB is an asset.
  • Be willing to work in close collaboration with the rest of the ERC team in the group and with other departments at KU Leuven (Chemical Engineering, Physics, Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering).

- Communication skills: Ability to work both independently and in a team, direct communication style. Fluency in spoken and written English is mandatory! Minimum required: IELTS of 7 (no sub score below 6.5) or TOEFL of 94 (no sub score below 22).

- Attitude: Only highly motivated and hard-working candidates willing to work in a fast-paced and dynamic environment will be considered.


The project is funded by a European Union H2020 ERC grant. It includes funding to cover competitive salary, lab and conference expenses for a 4-year program towards the completion of a PhD degree at the Department of Materials Engineering of KU Leuven.

KU Leuven is one of the top 50 universities in the world (top 10 in Europe) according to the Times Higher Education ranking and ranks #7 (top in Europe) in the World’s Most Innovative Universities ranking elaborated by Reuters. It offers an exciting multi-disciplinary research environment, a broad range of training courses for PhD students, and full social and medical insurance.

Located in Belgium, at the heart of Europe, and less than 3 hours by train from cities like Paris, London or Amsterdam, Leuven is a cultural and historical city with a vibrant international student lifestyle.


For more information, please check our group website: https://www.molina-lopezresear... can apply for this job no later than August 15, 2021 via https://www.kuleuven.be/person...

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 diversiteit.HR@kuleuven.be.

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