EPSRC DTP Fully Funded PhD Studentship

EPSRC DTP PhD Studentship: Nonlinear problems related to traction force microscopy (2022)

A fully funded EPSRC DTP PhD studentship in the Department of Mathematics.

What you get

  • Fully-paid tuition fees for three and a half years.
  • A tax-free bursary for living costs for three and a half years. From October 2022/23 this is expected to be £16,062 per year
  • A support grant for three and a half years of £1,650 per year for travel and conferences.
  • If you are not a UK national, nor an EU national with UK settled/pre-settled status, you will need to apply for a student study visa before admission

Type of award

Postgraduate Research

PhD project

Our Research Group

This is an intradisciplinary project co-supervised by Dr C Venkataraman (https://www.maths.sussex.ac.uk/~cv42/) and Dr K Koumatos (https://sites.google.com/site/konstantinoskoumatos/).

The Project

Force generation by biological cells underpins all cellular functions and thus, all life. However, accurate measurement of cellular forces is challenging due to the spatial scales which make direct experimental measurements infeasible. Traction force microscopy (TFM) attempts to sidestep this challenge by estimating forces indirectly from deformations of the medium upon which the cells exert force. Crucial to this estimation is the formulation of an appropriate constitutive law relating force generation to medium deformation as well as the formulation, analysis and approximation of a well-posed inverse problem to recover forces from the observed deformation. TFM is used to estimate forces generated by cells in vitro on synthetic substrates where the mechanics is approximated by a linearly elastic law. However, nonlinear constitutive laws arise in most practical settings, e.g. force generation by cells in the fibrous extra cellular medium. In the in vitro setting, when the forces exerted are large, the linear regime is no longer appropriate, such as when cells cause wrinkling in their vicinity which can only be captured by nonlinear models. A further challenge arises in the numerical approximation of the inverse problem which mandates the solution of the forward model. This is well understood in the linear case but much less studied and more challenging for nonlinear models.

This project seeks to develop a framework for the formulation of well-posed inverse problems related to TFM. We will focus on energetic models for the mechanics of the medium which involve appropriate notions of convexity (e.g. polyconvexity, quasiconvexity) such that the forward problem is well-posed but nonetheless allow for enough generality to be applicable. We will also develop, analyse and implement numerical methods for the approximation of the inverse problem and finally we shall seek to apply the methodology in conjunction with cell biologists/biophysicists to real imaging data. The project would be suitable for a student interested in some or all of the following areas: analysis of PDEs, continuum modelling, finite element methods,  numerical analysis and mathematical biology.


  • Applicants must hold, or expect to hold, at least a UK upper second class degree (or non-UK equivalent qualification) in Mathematics, or a closely-related area, or else a lower second class degree followed by a relevant Master's degree.
  • This award is open to UK and International students


10 June 2022 23:45

How to apply

Apply through the University of Sussex on-line system. 


Select the PhD in Mathematics, with an entry date of September 2022.

In the Finance & Fees section, state that you wish to be considered for studentship no EPSRC/2022/Maths/02 

Due to the high volume of applications received, you may only hear from us if your application is successful.

Contact us

If you have practical questions about the progress of your on-line application or your eligibility, contact Emma Ransley at mps-pgrsupport@sussex.ac.uk

For academic questions about the project, contact Dr Venkataraman at c.venkataraman@sussex.ac.uk and Dr Koumatos at k.koumatos@sussex.ac.uk


At level(s):
PG (research)

Application deadline:
10 June 2022 23:45 (GMT)
the deadline has now expired


The award is available to people from these specific countries: