PhD position High Speed Atomic Force Microscopy of Molecular Switches and Motors


Faculty of Science and Engineering


University of Groningen

The University of Groningen is a research university, currently in or around the top 100 on several influential ranking lists. The Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE) is the largest faculty within the University, offering first-rate education and research in a wide range of science and engineering disciplines.

The mission of the Zernike Institute for Advanced Materials (ZIAM) is the design and scientific study of materials for functionality. The strength of our institute lies in focused, curiosity-driven, symbiotic studies of functional materials involving researchers from physics, chemistry and biology. Our main driving force is the desire to understand how things work at the microscopic/nanoscopic level, also known as the molecular scale. This is the realm of nanoscience and nanotechnology. In this field, the Zernike Institute for Advanced Materials covers the whole chain from synthesizing materials, building devices, characterizing materials and devices, and investigating the theoretical foundation of their properties.

The research in the Roos lab ranges from molecular to systems size levels. In particular, we study the structure and dynamics of supramolecular assemblies of both natural as synthetic origin including their self-assembly, their interaction with the environment and their mechanical properties. We study this dynamic behaviour with various biophysical techniques, including atomic force microscopy, optical tweezers and fluorescence microscopy. In addition we study the structure and dynamics of liposomes and extracellular vesicles. These latter vesicles have recently become under intense scrutiny for their role in inter-cellular communication as well as for their potential as drug carrier vehicle. We address the different questions with an interdisciplinary team where people with backgrounds in various disciplines of the sciences, including physics, chemistry and biology, combine forces to tackle the challenges that come up while elucidating the fascinating mechanisms that govern life(-inspired) processes.

Job description

“Light triggered molecular switches & motors: Unravelling the molecular mechanism behind motion at the nanoscale”

This PhD position concerns a joined project between the groups of prof. Wouter Roos and prof. Ben Feringa. 2 PhD students will collaborate, one position in the Roos lab, focussing on high speed Atomic Force Microscopy and real time studies of dynamics, and one position in the Feringa lab with emphasis on design, synthesis, assembly and functioning of switches and motors.

Synthetic molecular machines such as switches and motors have recently gained increasing interest as they enable dynamic functions, motility and mechanical functions in materials. In this project the focus is on the design, synthesis, assembly and functioning of photochemical switches and rotary motors with the ultimate goal to elucidate in real time the dynamics and mechanisms behind motion at the nanoscale. New switches and motors will be prepared and their dynamic properties tuned on demand via structural modifications. The elucidation of the photochemical isomerization processes, the design of visible light powered systems and the incorporation in larger functional supramolecular assemblies (both in solution and on surfaces) are examined. In particular, two distinct types of assemblies, nanopores and nanofibres/nanotubes will be studied. For instance, by designing and optimising nano-pores with azobenzene, spiropyran or other photoactive moieties, both pore formation and pore opening/closing can be triggered in a non-invasive manner using visible light while the adaptive and actuating nanofibers/tubes are typically based on photoresponsive amphiphilic molecular motors. By further developing the High Speed AFM approach the molecular mode of action of the switches and motors will be scrutinized. The two PhD students will work in close cooperation; in this project design, synthesis, photophysical measurements, single molecule analysis and supramolecular methodology will comprise the major part of the research.


For the position in the Roos group, we are looking for candidates who meet the following requirements:

• a MSc degree in physics or a related field
• a clear interest in collaborative interdisciplinary research
• excellent grades
• creativity, determination and motivation.

Experience in nanoscience and/or atomic force microscopy is a plus.

Applicants whose first language is not English must submit evidence of competency in English, please see University of Groningen’s English Language Requirements for details.

Conditions of employment

Contract length: 48 months.

We offer you in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities:

• a salary of € 2,434 gross per month in the first year, up to a maximum of € 3,111 gross per month in the fourth and final year, based on a full-time position (1.0 FTE)
• a holiday allowance of 8% gross annual income
• an 8.3% year-end bonus
• a position for four years; you will get a temporary position of one year with the option of renewal for another three years; prolongation of the contract is contingent on sufficient progress in the first year to indicate that a successful completion of the PhD thesis within the next three years is to be expected
• a university PhD training programme is part of the agreement and the successful candidates will be enrolled in the Graduate School of Science and Engineering.

The starting date is flexible

Job Application

Do you meet our qualification criteria? If yes, you’re requested to upload the following documents:

• a motivation letter stating your motivation to apply for the position and your key qualities relevant for this position
• an up-to-date curriculum vitae
• diplomas (BSc and Msc) and transcript of records
• contact information of two academic references.

You can submit your application until 16 January 11:59pm / before 17 January 2022 Dutch local time (CET) by means of the application form (click on "Apply" below on the advertisement on the university website).

We are an equal opportunity employer and value diversity at our University. We are committed to building a diverse faculty so you are encouraged to apply. Our selection procedure follows the guidelines of the Recruitment code (NVP), and European Commission's European Code of Conduct for recruitment of researchers,

Unsolicited marketing is not appreciated.

Additional information

For additional information, please contact:

Prof. Wouter Roos

Prof. Ben Feringa

Dr Anouk Lubbe

In your application, please always include the job opening ID 221690

Digital application form