Background and overall aims:

This joint PhD project between RMIT University and the Bionics Institute of Australia aims to develop a conformal multi-electrode array system with applications in medical bionic devices. The proposed electrodes array will show antifouling characteristics and improved integration with the surrounding tissues minimising formation of scar tissues around the device. This will offer enhanced patient outcome, for instance, through increasing the effective working life of the device inside the body. An ideal PhD applicant will have prior experience in materials chemistry/ engineering, electrochemistry and biochemistry.

Bionic devices are implants that can replace, complement or monitor biological functions. Notable examples include cardiac pacemakers and cochlear implants. Bionic devices rely on electrodes interfaced with biological systems to generate and collect electrical signals.

Currently, relatively large and rigid metal electrodes are used in bionic devices. However, for better integration with biological tissues, flexible electrodes that offer conformality while retaining their structural stability and stable conductivity are desirable. These features can be potentially achieved by employing either conductive polymers or nanostructured coatings of metals and semiconductors with flat 2D morphology on flexible substrates (e.g. PDMS that is used in contact lenses). The first part of the PhD project will focus on development of conformal electrodes.

An additional focus for the next-generation of bionic devices is to reduce the size of implants and incorporate multifunctionality in these devices. This often requires a complex array of electrodes and wires, which increases the bulkiness of the electrodes. Recent development in nanotechnology such as colloidal lithography in conjunction with electrochemistry offers opportunities to develop miniaturised arrays of electrodes. The second phase of the project will explore options for developing multi-electrode arrays of conformal electrodes.

Further, since electrodes employed in the bionic implants must fully integrate with the surrounding tissues, relevant characteristics of these electrodes, such as their antifouling properties, robustness and conductivity performance in a tissue environment will be studied and optimised. In this final phase of the project, techniques such as isothermal titration calorimetry and fluorescence assays will be utilized to study the fundamental aspects , while an appropriate animal model will be used to test the device performance.

General methods to be used in the project:

Materials science, electrochemistry, histology

Suitable background of students:

Engineer / Science Graduate

Supervisor: A/Prof James Fallon

For all student enquiries email: [email protected]