PhD Position Particle Free Contactless Wafer Handling, WP2

  • WO
  • Tijdelijk
Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)


The fast and accurate handling, transportation, and positioning of thin, sensitive substrates, such as Si-wafers, solar cells, and flat panel display glass panels are all core operations in production and manufacturing systems in high-tech industry, and substrate handling systems can be found everywhere in this industry. Every mechanical contact between system components in relative movement increases the risk of wear of these components and the release of wear particles in the system, and every mechanical contact between handling system and substrate increases the risk of contamination, damage, or even breakage of said substrate, all of which need to be avoided. And yet, in current substrate handling systems found in industry mechanical contact is prevalent, with the unavoidable resulting contamination of the substrates that are being handled.
In this research project in collaboration with our industrial partner, VDL-ETG, an important OEM supplier in the world-leading Dutch high-tech industry, we will develop new concepts for future handling systems for Si-wafers. This system will handle Si-wafers without mechanical contact when possible, and when unavoidable, make sure that the mechanical contact is without damage or contamination.

In this project three research directions are explored, that can be summarized as (1) the development of a contactless wafer gripper, (2) the study of materials and meta-materials that are safe in mechanical contact, and (3) the study of compliant mechanisms and machine components with reduced risk of wear particle generation.
As such, the project is performed in three closely connected yet clearly distinguishable parallel work-packages, each populated with a PhD student:

- WP1: see vacancy TUD04404
- WP2: Development of metamaterial structures with appropriate properties for contact without particle generation

In this WP, we explore the concept of compliant wafer handlers/grippers made of Nitinol – a shape-memory alloy (SMA) of Nickel and Titanium. SMAs are promising candidates because they exhibit the structural properties of metals with the damping effectiveness of polymers. By leveraging the benefits of reversible martensitic-austenitic phase transformations at the microscale, SMAs show (i) super-elasticity, i.e., the ability to pseudo-elastically deform up to large, recoverable strains with little to no permanent deformation, and (ii) high vibrational-damping (for minimal vibration-induced sliding and impacts during contact). While Nitinol/SMA-based compliant mechanisms have been explored in the past, a systematic integration of material development and compliant structural design in the context of contamination-mitigating contact-based handling is an open question.

In addition to materials development, the concept of SMA-based metamaterials remains underexplored. Metamaterials with carefully engineered micro-architecture (at length scales much higher than the material scale but smaller than the scale of the structural members) can enable tailored and/or unique mechanical properties (e.g., negative Poisson’s ratio and tunable stiffness) that are not achievable by monolithic designs. In this WP, we further explore SMA-based metamaterials through the use of kirigami-inspired (Japanese art of paper cutting) techniques and laser cutting to design two-dimensional micro-architected flexures. The objective will be to design the cut patterns and orientations to beneficially tune the super-elasticity and vibrational damping of the wafer grippers.

- WP3: see vacancy TUD04406


  • MSc university degree in applied mechanics, materials science, mechanical engineering, or a related area.
  • Background in mechanical design and materials science.
  • Strong interest in both theoretical and experimental aspects of materials engineering.
  • Team player with strong communication skills.

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.


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!


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 € 2770 per month in the first year to € 3539 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.

Meer informatie

For more information about this vacancy, please contact Dr. Ron van Ostayen,