PhD position - Tissue-mimicking biopolymer networks based on recombinant structural proteins

Do you want to understand the soft matter physics of tissues and at the same time design bioinspired materials for soft tissue repair and cell-based meat?

PhD position - Tissue-mimicking biopolymer networks based on recombinant structural proteins

Deadline: 31 Oct 2023

Job description

Biomaterials are widely used as scaffolds for cell culture in regenerative medicine, organ-on-chip human disease models, and cell-based meat production. However, they are currently mostly based on structural proteins sourced from animal tissues. Animal-derived products are unsustainable and raise ethical, cultural and safety concerns. Moreover, natural proteins are difficult to customize.

The goal of this project is to develop protein-based biomaterials that are based on recombinant structural proteins produced by yeast cells. We thus aim to achieve sustainable production of customizable structural proteins to be used as building blocks for advanced biomaterials capable of guiding cell functions by emulating the extracellular matrix of tissues.

To reach this goal, we have formed a unique multidisciplinary team. The Daran lab at TU Delft will establish a dedicated microbial cell factory to produce collagen and elastin, the main structural proteins in tissues, at high yield, while the Koenderink lab at TU Delft will use those proteins to design composite biopolymer networks with tissue-mimicking biomechanical properties. In close collaboration with the companies DSM, Meatable and VIVOLTA, we will explore applications of these materials for soft tissue repair and cell-based meat.

Your role in this project will be to develop tissue-mimicking biopolymer networks using the recombinant proteins as building blocks. Connective tissues such as skin and arteries are fascinating materials because they combine a superior mechanical strength with the ability to adapt and self-mend. One of our long-term goals is to understand the molecular basis of this paradoxical combination of strength and dynamics. Connective tissues are mechanically supported by an extracellular matrix made up of different protein polymers with complementary properties. You will focus on the two main biopolymers: collagen, which forms stiff fibres that provide tissues with tensile strength, and elastin, which confers extensibility. Together, collagen and elastin tailor the mechanical performance of each tissue in accordance with its function.

Your goal will be to develop composite collagen-elastin materials with synergistic biomechanical properties. You will first develop a method for high-throughput screening of the structure and rheology of the recombinant proteins based on light scattering and optical microrheology. You will then use an integrative materials testing approach to characterize the structure and mechanics of the new materials across all scales, from molecule-to-material. This will involve the use of atomic force microscopy, electron microscopy, confocal imaging, and macroscopic mechanical testing. For collagen we will focus on the role of its post-translational modifications, while for elastin we will focus on the role of amino acid sequence on gelation temperature and final stiffness. Finally you will map the phase space of accessible mechanical behaviors that can be achieved in composites, varying the protein composition and molecular design.

Your findings will provide fundamental insights in tissue biophysics and a strong basis for rational design of biomaterials for applications in soft tissue repair and cell-based meat.


We seek a talented and enthusiastic student with a strong affinity for experimental research at the interface of physics and biology. You should ideally have relevant experience in soft matter physics, biophysics, physical chemistry, bioengineering, or related fields. We are looking for a candidate with a high level of intellectual creativity and curiosity, who enjoys teamwork and easily communicates with scientists from different disciplines.

Applicants must

  • hold a Master’s degree, or approach its completion, in physics, chemistry, bioengineering, materials science, or a closely related discipline;
  • have excellent written and spoken English skills;
  • thrive in an international, multidisciplinary, and highly collaborative environment.     

Doing a PhD at TU Delft requires English proficiency at a certain level to ensure that the candidate is able to communicate and interact well, participate in English-taught Doctoral Education courses, and write scientific articles and a final thesis. For more details please check the Graduate Schools Admission Requirements.

Conditions of employment

Doctoral candidates will be offered a 4-year period of employment in principle, but in the form of 2 employment contracts. An initial 1,5 year contract with an official go/no go progress assessment within 15 months. Followed by an additional contract for the remaining 2,5 years assuming everything goes well and performance requirements are met.

Salary and benefits are in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities, increasing from € 2.541 per month in the first year to € 3.247 in the fourth year. As a PhD candidate you will be enrolled in the TU Delft Graduate School. The TU Delft Graduate School provides an inspiring research environment with an excellent team of supervisors, academic staff and a mentor. The Doctoral Education Programme is aimed at developing your transferable, discipline-related and research skills.

The TU Delft offers a customisable compensation package, discounts on health insurance and sport memberships, and a monthly work costs contribution. Flexible work schedules can be arranged.

For international applicants, TU Delft has the Coming to Delft Service. This service provides information for new international employees to help you prepare the relocation and to settle in the Netherlands. The Coming to Delft Service offers a Dual Career Programme for partners and they organise events to expand your (social) network.


Delft University of Technology
Delft University of Technology is built on strong foundations. As creators of the world-famous Dutch waterworks and pioneers in biotech, TU Delft is a top international university combining science, engineering and design. It delivers world class results in education, research and innovation to address challenges in the areas of energy, climate, mobility, health and digital society. For generations, our engineers have proven to be entrepreneurial problem-solvers, both in business and in a social context.

At TU Delft we embrace diversity as one of our core values and we actively engage to be a university where you feel at home and can flourish. We value different perspectives and qualities. We believe this makes our work more innovative, the TU Delft community more vibrant and the world more just. Together, we imagine, invent and create solutions using technology to have a positive impact on a global scale. That is why we invite you to apply. Your application will receive fair consideration.

Challenge. Change. Impact!


Faculty Applied Sciences
With more than 1,100 employees, including 150 pioneering principal investigators, as well as a population of about 3,600 passionate students, the Faculty of Applied Sciences is an inspiring scientific ecosystem. Focusing on key enabling technologies, such as quantum- and nanotechnology, photonics, biotechnology, synthetic biology and materials for energy storage and conversion, our faculty aims to provide solutions to important problems of the 21st century. To that end, we educate innovative students in broad Bachelor's and specialist Master's programmes with a strong research component. Our scientists conduct ground-breaking fundamental and applied research in the fields of Life and Health Science & Technology, Nanoscience, Chemical Engineering, Radiation Science & Technology, and Engineering Physics. We are also training the next generation of high school teachers.

Click here to go to the website of the Faculty of Applied Sciences.

The Department of Bionanoscience focuses on the fundamental understanding of biological processes, from the level of single molecules to the full complexity of living cells. This research provides fascinating insight in the molecular mechanisms that lead to cellular function. Furthermore it enables the in vitro bottom-up construction of cellular machinery and it impacts applications ranging from biomolecular diagnostics to novel antibiotics and targeted nanomedicine. The department features a strongly multidisciplinary and international team of scientists, whose research areas include single-molecule biophysics, synthetic biology, as well as (quantitative) cell biology. 

Additional information

The Koenderink lab is an experimental research group centered around the soft matter physics of living matter. We combine concepts and methods from soft matter physics, biophysics, synthetic biology and mechanobiology to understand cell and tissue mechanics. We translate the design principles we discover by our fundamental research into new design concepts for nutritional and biomedical materials and approaches to diagnose or treat human diseases. Our lab is embedded in the Bionanoscience Department, which focuses on the fundamental understanding of biological processes from molecule to cell. Our group and the department as a whole feature an inspiring and supportive international environment with access to state-of-the art facilities for microfluidics and nanofabrication, advanced imaging, molecular/cell biology, biochemistry, high-performance computing for image processing, and mechanical characterization. You can find more information about our lab on our website:

More information about the application procedure can be found here.

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