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PhD position in Cellulose Nanocrystal Assembly

This PhD project will focus on the self-assembly of cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) with the use of microfluidic encapsulation and external magnetic fields. The research project will be carried out in the team of Dr Lisa Tran, as part of the Soft Condensed Matter & Biophysics research group at the Debye Institute for Nanomaterials Science in the Physics Department at Utrecht University.

CNCs are plant-derived, rod-like colloids that can self-assemble into a chiral, cholesteric liquid crystal. When concentrated, the twisted packing of CNCs can result in structures that give rise to photonic responses, producing structural color. The degree of twisting is tunable, so photonic responses are possible for light wavelengths from ultra-violet to infrared. In this project, we will investigate how microfluidic encapsulation and subsequent processing of CNC suspensions can influence their organization and photonic response. Potential applications of this project include sustainable paints and sensors.

The research project will involve cellulose nanocrystal extraction and modification, microfluidics, and high-resolution microscopy. Simulations in collaboration with other groups within the Debye Institute can also be employed to probe CNC assembly.


We are looking for a driven and collaborative student who:

· holds a Master’s degree in physics, material science, or a related field;
· has previous experience with liquid crystals and/or colloidal assembly;
· is enthusiastic and curious about working within a collaborative, multidisciplinary team;
· has excellent English communication skills (written and spoken).
· A background in soft condensed matter physics with prior experience in liquid crystals, optical microscopy, colloidal assembly, and/or microfluidics is a plus.

We care about diversity and encourage students from underrepresented groups to apply.


· a full-time position for four years;
· participation in the education programme of the Graduate School of Natural Sciences;
· access to a network of collaborative researchers within the Debye Institute;
· a full-time gross salary that starts at €2,443 and increases to €3,122 per month in the fourth year (scale P of the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities (cao));
· 8% holiday bonus and 8.3% end-of-year bonus;
· a pension scheme, partially paid parental leave, and flexible employment conditions based on the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities.

In addition to the employment conditions laid down in the cao for Dutch Universities, Utrecht University has a number of its own arrangements. For example, there are agreements on professional development, leave arrangements and sports. We also give you the opportunity to expand your terms of employment via the Employment Conditions Selection Model. This is how we like to encourage you to continue to grow.

More information about working at the Faculty of Science can be found here.

About the organization

Utrecht University’s Debye Institute for Nanomaterials Science brings together six research groups from the departments of Chemistry and Physics. The central research theme is 'Nanomaterials for Sustainability', supported by three strong, interconnected research pillars: catalysis, colloids and nanophotonics.

At the Faculty of Science, there are 6 departments to make a fundamental connection with: Biology, Chemistry, Information and Computing Sciences, Mathematics, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Physics. Each of these is made up of distinct institutes which work together to focus on answering some of humanity’s most pressing problems. More fundamental still are the individual research groups – the building blocks of our ambitious scientific projects.

Utrecht University is a friendly and ambitious university at the heart of an ancient city. We love to welcome new scientists to our city – a thriving cultural hub that is consistently rated as one of the world’s happiest cities. We are renowned for our innovative interdisciplinary research and our emphasis on inspirational research and excellent education. We are equally well-known for our familiar atmosphere and the can-do attitude of our people. This fundamental connection attracts researchers, professors and PhD candidates from all over the globe, making both the university and the Faculty of Science a vibrant international and wonderfully diverse community.

Additional information

If you have any questions regarding the position, please contact Dr Lisa Tran, via l.tran(at)
Do you have a question about the application procedure? Please send an email to science.recruitment(at)


Everyone deserves to feel at home at our university. We welcome employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives. If you have the expertise and the experience to excel in this role, then simply respond via this link. Please enclose:

· your letter of motivation detailing motivation, research experience, and research interests;
· your detailed curriculum vitae, including a list of publications;
· copies of your transcripts/certificates;
· the names, telephone numbers, and email addresses of at least two references.

If this specific opportunity isn’t for you, but you know someone who may be interested, please forward this link to them.

Please note: Due to the current situation regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19) the process of selection and interviews is subject to change. Initial interviews will most likely be conducted online.

The application deadline is 31 March 2022.

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