Dr Tom Montenegro-Johnson BA MPhil PhD

Dr Tom Montenegro-Johnson

School of Mathematics
Reader in Applied Mathematics

Contact details

School of Mathematics
Watson Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Tom is a Reader in Applied Mathematics and the School Impact Lead.

He is an interdisciplinary mathematician working at the intersection of continuum mechanics, biology, microfluidics, and engineering. The main focus of his research is in the study microscale systems comprising smart, responsive, materials and flow-driving components as a way of controlling fluid flows at the microscopic scale, with applications in microfluidics and microbots. He leads an interdisciplinary team of 4 research fellows and 2 PhD students, and collaborates with experimentalists and industry worldwide to realise his theoretical designs. Recently, Tom has also begun working on the mathematics of the sense of touch. Tom is always keen to discuss to discuss new opportunities to collaborate, in particular with industrial partners.

He is the author or co-author of over 30 research papers in scientific journals, including internationally-leading journals such as Science Advances, Nature Communications, Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics, and the Journal of Fluid Mechanics. His current primary funding is a Research Leadership Award from the Leverhulme Trust (PI), and he has received funding from Horizon 2020 FET “H-Reality” (CoI), EPSRC Bright Ideas Award “Artificial Transforming Swimmers for Precision Microfluidics Tasks” (PI), and a Research Fellowship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 (PI), amongst others. His total research income is £1.35 M (PI) and £2.5 M (CoI).

Tom is passionate about engaging the wider public with STEM. He has co-developed an exhibit for the Birmingham Science Museum (Thinktank) based upon his research, acted as scientific advisor for a film project, and is currently engaged in an art-science collaboration with Award-winning origami artist Coco Sato. His work has received national news coverage. He regularly attends outreach events and science festivals.


  • PhD in Applied Mathematics, University of Birmingham, 2013
  • MPhil in Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, 2010
  • BA in Mathematics, University of Cambridge, 2008


Tom joined St John’s College, Cambridge in 2005 to study mathematics. He then went on to an MPhil in Earth Sciences at the BP Institute, Cambridge, under the supervision of Professor Colm Caulfield. He submitted his PhD on Microscopic Swimming in Biological Fluids in December 2012, under the supervision of Professor John Blake and Dr David Smith at the University of Birmingham. He then began a year-long postdoc with Dr Smith on elastohydrodynamic modelling, and in January 2014 he joined Dr Eric Lauga’s group in DAMTP at the University of Cambridge. In August 2016, Tom returned to the University of Birmingham where he is currently a Reader in Mathematical Biology.


Semester 2

  • LM Advanced Mathematical Biology

Postgraduate supervision

Tom is happy to take enquiries from motivated PhD students in any of the research areas described below.


Research Themes

  • Microscale Propulsion (artificial and biological)
  • Microfluidics
  • Diffusiophoresis
  • Numerical Methods for PDEs
  • The Sense of Touch
  • Mathematical Biology

Research Activity

Tom is an interdisciplinary researcher applying mathematical and computational techniques to a range of problems in fluid dynamics, soft matter, and biological physics, often in collaboration with experimentalists. Beginning with his PhD examining sperm locomotion through complex fluids, through his 1851 Fellowship developing the theory of swimming microbots, to his EPSRC Bright Ideas grant on shape-changing active colloids, and branching out to modelling skin and mechanoreceptors in my H2020 FET, he has developed a research portfolio encompassing mathematical modelling, fluid-structure dynamics, and developmental biology, which now forms the basis of his Leverhulme Research Leadership Award research programme. His key scientific interests are:

  • Deformable, programmable, active matter: Theory, computational techniques, experimental design and realisation of soft microswimmers and microfluidics components for industrial and biomedical applications.
  • Physics of Touch: Skin modelling, vibrotaction, understanding skin-wave interactions, the stimulation of mechanoreceptors via deformation, human augmentation.
  • Developmental Biophysics: The process of left-right symmetry breaking in developing vertebrates, and the analysis of plant embryo growth.


Recent publications


Katsamba, P, Butler, M, Koens, L & Montenegro-Johnson, T 2022, 'Chemically active filaments: analysis and extensions of Slender Phoretic Theory', Soft Matter. https://doi.org/10.1039/D2SM00942K

Nsamela, A, Garcia Zintzun, AI, Montenegro-Johnson, T & Simmchen, J 2022, 'Colloidal active matter mimics the behaviour of biological microorganisms - an overview...', Small.

Butler, M & Montenegro-Johnson, T 2022, 'Swelling and shrinking of thermo-responsive hydrogels', Journal of Fluid Mechanics, vol. 947, A11. https://doi.org/10.1017/jfm.2022.641

Sharan, P, Maslen, C, Altunkeyik, B, Rehor, I, Simmchen, J & Montenegro-Johnson, T 2021, 'Fundamental modes of swimming correspond to fundamental modes of shape: engineering I-, U-, and S-shaped swimmers', Advanced Intelligent Systems. https://doi.org/10.1002/aisy.202100068

Koens, L & Montenegro-Johnson, TD 2021, 'Local drag of a slender rod parallel to a plane wall in a viscous fluid', Physical Review Fluids, vol. 6, no. 6, 064101. https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevFluids.6.064101

Smith, D, Gallagher, MT, Schuech, R & Montenegro-Johnson, T 2021, 'The role of the double-layer potential in regularised stokeslet models of self-propulsion', Fluids, vol. 6, no. 11, 411. https://doi.org/10.3390/fluids6110411

Andrews, J, Adams, M & Montenegro-Johnson, T 2020, 'A universal scaling law of mammalian touch', Science Advances, vol. 6, no. 41, eabb6912. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abb6912

Gallagher, MT, Montenegro-Johnson, T & Smith, D 2020, 'Simulations of particle tracking in the oligociliated mouse node and implications for left-right symmetry breaking mechanics', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B, vol. 375, no. 1792, 20190161. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2019.0161

Katsamba, P, Michelin, S & Montenegro-Johnson, T 2020, 'Slender phoretic theory of chemically active filaments', Journal of Fluid Mechanics, vol. 898, A24. https://doi.org/10.1017/jfm.2020.410

Montenegro-Johnson, T, Strauss, S, Jackson, MDB, Walker, L, Smith, RS & Bassel, GW 2019, '3DCellAtlas Meristem: a tool for the global cellular annotation of shoot apical meristems', Plant Methods, vol. 15, no. 1, 33. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13007-019-0413-0

Hall-McNair, A, Montenegro-Johnson, T, Gadêlha, H, Smith, D & Gallagher, MT 2019, 'Efficient implementation of elastohydrodynamics via integral operators', Physical Review Fluids, vol. 4, no. 11, 113101, pp. 113101-1 - 113101-24. https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevFluids.4.113101

Baker, R, Montenegro-Johnson, T, Sediako, A, Thomson, M, Sen, A & Lauga, E 2019, 'Shape-programmed 3-D printed swimming microtori for the transport of passive and active agents', Nature Communications.

Baker, RD, Montenegro-Johnson, T, Sediako, AD, Thomson, MJ, Sen, A, Lauga, E & Aranson, IS 2019, 'Shape-programmed 3D printed swimming microtori for the transport of passive and active agents', Nature Communications, vol. 10, no. 1, 4932. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-12904-0

Smith, D, Montenegro-Johnson, T & Lopes, S 2019, 'Symmetry-Breaking Cilia-Driven Flow in Embryogenesis', Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics, vol. 51, pp. 105-128. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-fluid-010518-040231, https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-fluid-010518-040231

Solowiej-Wedderburn, J, Smith, D, Lopes, S & Montenegro-Johnson, T 2019, 'Wall stress enhanced exocytosis of extracellular vesicles as a possible mechanism of left-right symmetry-breaking in vertebrate development', Journal of Theoretical Biology, vol. 460, pp. 220-226. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtbi.2018.10.015

View all publications in research portal