Independent Project/Project Lead – Develop a model of scale and feather physical properties

  • 3-5 hours per week for research duties
  • 1-2 hours per week for communication, correspondence, or meetings
  • Volunteering remotely / online

At the Freedom of Form Foundation, we believe that everyone should have the right to biologically express their identities, living life in the body that feels most natural to them. Today’s advances in biotechnology and medicine present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop the tools required to allow biological self-determination in the near future. Tails are on the horizon, potentially sooner than you think!

We are looking for someone who will help us answer a question that will greatly impact how we engineer modifications to the integument for scaled or feathered creatures – developing a model of the physical properties of polymer networks within scales and feathers, especially the interplay of material composition on elastic behavior. Ultimately, the model you develop will help determine how we engineer scales and feathers in the real world. What balance of keratins are optimal for scales and feathers that are robust, but that aren’t uncomfortable? How thick should scales and feathers be, and does the answer change depending on the types of material used? Your work will help us answer these and many other questions!

General project goals:

  • You might develop your model in any suitable software – anything from Python or R, to anything else, is fair game.
  • Model either a scale or feather’s keratins with uniform polymer networks, as a 1 millimeter-thick, two-dimensional slab, and subjected to a simple application of external forces.
  • You might choose to use uniform forces, or an infinitely small time differential of the system’s behavior before its shape starts to deform, or any other situation that helps you build a simple model of understanding.
  • Subsequently, you might explore how different keratins influence system behavior, and/or how scale or feather deformations might change with non-uniform forces, non-uniform thickness or composition, or deformations progressing past an infinitely small time differential.
  • Describe how this simple system might differ from more realistic, unique considerations of scales and feathers.
  • As a stretch goal, we would also be excited by more detailed analysis of how various shapes of scales and feathers might interact with keratin composition in impacting overall system behavior
  • Plastic and fracture modeling are excluded in this project scope. That’s for later!


You will be taking on a highly independent role, and will be reporting directly to our Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Lathreas. (They are extremely friendly and supportive, don’t worry about that! They are brilliant and will genuinely be a great resource for you).

  • Two-way communication with our CTO, other researchers, and other volunteers.
  • Being resourceful and creative to find information and resources you need.
  • Developing a more detailed project plan, listing tasks and deliverables, and following through on it.
  • Occasionally sharing your research with our community through presentations, newsletter articles, and other contributions. (This is seriously a lot of fun, and helps us get more resources to help your project! Don’t sweat it.)


The four most important questions we would ask you are:

  • Does our mission mean something special to you?
  • Do you feel personal accountability for projects and tasks you are involved in?
  • Do you enjoy learning new things, and applying your abilities in new ways?
  • Are you willing to see a project through to the end, within the bounds of your personal health?

Positive answers to those questions are the biggest predictors of success – more important than professional degrees, in our experience. If you can answer yes to all four questions, we strongly encourage you to reach out, even if you don’t feel that the technical qualifications below are a fit. There’s a good chance we can find something that works.

Now, in more technical terms, we are generally hoping for someone with:

  • Have taken at least one class in any of the general fields of physics, mechanics, materials science, or similar.
  • Mastery of gathering, analyzing, and summarizing complex and sometimes conflicting information.
  • Some programming or coding experience in at least one language.
  • Experience working on a complex project independently, and delivering results successfully.
  • Exposure to situations requiring interdisciplinary collaboration or communication.
  • Ability to act as a generalist, and willingness to go outside your main area of training.

The above qualifications are intentionally broad. We believe in translatable skills, and no matter what, you’ll need to think creatively to solve new problems.

What you can expect:

  • Supportive and genuine environment, and source of new friendships.
  • Access to tools and resources. If you need something for your project, we’ll cover it.
  • Stretching yourself with new challenges in a growing environment, practicing new career skills earlier than your contemporaries.
  • Seeing your work make an impact, and create something you’re proud of.


If you have any questions or want to discuss more before applying, please send an email to [email protected]. We won’t bite (too hard)!

In particular, if you are interested in this or other volunteering opportunities, and you’re not sure whether or not it would be a fit, please reach out and we’d be happy to explore possibilities with you.

Sounds good? Please apply!

Please send an email to [email protected] with:

  • Subject line – Make sure to include the position title somewhere in the subject line.
  • Message body – Cover letter. We’re very interested to hear your take on our organization’s mission and if it has personal meaning for you. Please address your message to the hiring manager, Lathreas.
  • Attach – Your Resume or CV.

If we feel there may be a match, we’ll reach out to you to follow up.