Faculty Research

Current research activities in the Department of Mechanical Engineering are in the areas of controls and robotics, energy and micropower generation, fluid mechanics, heat/mass transfer, mechanics of materials, manufacturing, material processing, MEMS, nanotechnology, and orthopedic biomechanics.

Biomechanics and Mechanics of Materials

Some of the current research in biomechanics is concerned with the application of continuum theories of mixtures to problems of electromechanical behavior of soft biological tissues, contact mechanics, lubrication of diarthrodial joints, and cartilage tissue engineering. (Ateshian)
In the area of the mechanics of materials, research is performed to better understand material constitutive behavior at the micro- and mesolength scales. This work is experimental, theoretical, and computational in nature. The ultimate goal is to formulate constitutive relationships that are based on physical concepts rather than phenomenology, as in the case of plasticity power-law hardening. In addition, the role that the constitutive relations play in the fracture and failure of materials is emphasized. (Kysar)
We study the physical principles underlying the mechanics and self-organization of biological materials by combining quantitative approaches from engineering, biology, and physics. The group builds tools to measure and manipulate the behaviors of protein, cells, and tissues in order to uncover the mechanisms by which living multicellular tissues change shape, move, and grow to build functional tissues and organs. For example, the group is currently using the Drosophila (fruit fly) embryo as a model system for understanding how mechanical forces shape tissues during embryonic development. These studies combine confocal microscopy, genetics, and biomechanical measurements. (Kasza)
Other areas of biomechanics include characterizing the structure-function behavior of the cervix during the remodeling events of pregnancy and characterizing the mechanical properties of the eye-wall in relation to glaucoma. Research in our lab includes the mechanical testing of biological soft tissues, the biochemical analysis of tissue microstructure, and material modeling based on structure-mechanical property relationships. In collaboration with clinicians, our goal is to understand the etiologies of tissue pathology and disease. (Myers)

Control, Robotics, Design, and Manufacturing

Control research emphasizes iterative learning control (ILC) and repetitive control (RC). ILC creates controllers that learn from previous experience performing a specific command, such as robots on an assembly line, aiming for high-precision mechanical motions. RC learns to cancel repetitive disturbances, such as precision motion through gearing, machining, satellite precision pointing, particle accelerators, etc. Time optimal control of robots is being studied for increased productivity on assembly lines through dynamic motion planning. Research is also being conducted on improved system identification, making mathematical models from input-output data. The results can be the starting point for designing controllers, but they are also studied as a means of assessing damage in civil engineering structures from earthquake data. (Longman)
Robotics research focuses on design of novel rehabilitation machines and training algorithms for functional rehabilitation of neural impaired adults and children. The research also aims to design intelligent machines using nonlinear system theoretic principles, computational algorithms for planning, and optimization.
Robotic Systems Engineering (ROSE) Lab develops technology capable of solving difficult design problems, such as cable-actuated systems, under-actuated systems, and others. Robotics and Rehabilitation (ROAR) Lab focuses on developing new and innovative technologies to improve the quality of care and patient outcomes. The lab designs novel exoskeletons for upper and lower limbs training of stroke patients, and mobile platforms to improve socialization in physically impaired infants. (Agrawal)
The Robotic Manipulation and Mobility (ROAM) Lab focuses on versatile manipulation and mobility in robotics, aiming for robotic applications pervasive in everyday life. Research areas include manipulation and grasping, interactive or Human-in-the-Loop robotics, dynamic simulators and virtual environments, machine perception and modeling, and many more. We are interested in application domains such as versatile automation in manufacturing and logistics, assistive and rehabilitation robotics in health care, space robotics, and mobile manipulation in unstructured environments. (Ciocarlie)
At the Creative Machines Lab (CreativeMachines.org) we are interested in robots that create and robots that are themselves creative. We develop novel autonomous systems that can design and make other machines - automatically. We are working on a self-replicating robots, self-aware robots, robots that improve themselves over time, and robots that compete and cooperate with other robots. We build robots that paint art, cook food, build bridges and fabricate other robots. Our work is inspired from biology, as we seek new biological concepts for engineering and new engineering insights into biology. (Lipson)
In the area of advanced manufacturing processes and systems, current research concentrates on laser materials processing. Investigations are being carried out in laser micromachining; laser forming of sheet metal; microscale laser shock-peening, material processing using improved laser-beam quality. Both numerical and experimental work is conducted using state-of-the-art equipment, instruments, and computing facilities. Close ties with industry have been established for collaborative efforts. (Yao)

Energy, Fluid Mechanics, and Heat/Mass Transfer

In the area of energy, one effort addresses the design of flow/mass transport systems for the extraction of carbon dioxide from air. Another effort addresses the development of distributed sensors for use in micrositing and performance evaluation of energy and environmental systems. The design and testing of components and systems for micropower generation is part of the thermofluids effort as well as part of the MEMS effort. (Modi)
In the area of fluid mechanics, study of low-Reynolds-number chaotic flows is being conducted both experimentally and numerically, and the interactions with molecular diffusion and inertia are presently being investigated. Other areas of investigation include the fluid mechanics of inkjet printing, drop on demand, the suppression of satellite droplets, shock wave propagation, and remediation in high-frequency printing systems. (Modi)
In the area of nanoscale thermal transport, our research efforts center on the enhancement of thermal radiation transport across interfaces separated by a nanoscale gap. The scaling behavior of nanoscale radiation transport is measured using a novel heat transfer measurement technique based on the deflection of a bimaterial atomic force microscope cantilever. Numerical simulations are also performed to confirm these measurements. The measurements are also used to infer extremely small variations of van der Waals forces with temperature. This enhancement of radiative transfer will ultimately be used to improve the power density of thermophotovoltaic energy conversion devices. (Narayanaswamy)
Also in the area of energy, research is being performed to improve the thermochemical models used in accelerating development of cleaner, more fuel-efficient engines through computational design. In particular, data-driven approaches to creating high-accuracy, uncertainty-quantified thermochemicals models are being developed that utilize both theoretical and experimental data. Special emphasis is placed on the generation and analysis of data across the full range of relevant scales—from the small-scale electronic behavior that governs molecular reactivity to the largescale turbulent, reactive phenomena that govern engine performance. (Burke)

MEMS and Nanotechnology

In these areas, research activities focus on power generation systems, nanostructures for photonics, fuel cells and photovoltaics, and microfabricated adaptive cooling skin and sensors for flow, shear, and wind speed. Basic research in fluid dynamics and heat/mass transfer phenomena at small scales also support these activities. (Hone, Lin, Modi, Narayanaswamy)
We study the dynamics of microcantilevers and atomic force microscope cantilevers to use them as microscale thermal sensors based on the resonance frequency shifts of vibration modes of the cantilever. Bimaterial microcantilever-based sensors are used to determine the thermophysical properties of thin films. (Narayanaswamy)
Research in the area of nanotechnology focuses on nanomaterials such as nanotubes and nanowires and their applications, especially in nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS). A laboratory is available for the synthesis of carbon nanotubes and semiconductor nanowires using chemical vapor deposition (CVD) techniques and to build devices using electron-beam lithography and various etching techniques. This effort will seek to optimize the fabrication, readout, and sensitivity of these devices for numerous applications, such as sensitive detection of mass, charge, and magnetic resonance. (Hone, Modi)
Research in BioMEMS aims to design and create MEMS and micro/nanofluidic systems to control the motion and measure the dynamic behavior of biomolecules in solution. Current efforts involve modeling and understanding the physics of micro/ nanofluidic devices and systems, exploiting polymer structures to enable micro/nanofluidic manipulation, and integrating MEMS sensors with microfluidics for measuring physical properties of biomolecules. (Lin)
The Schuck group aims to characterize, understaind and control nanoscale light-matter interactions, with a primary focus on sensing, engineering and exploiting novel optoelectronic phenomena emering from nanostructures and interfaces.  This offers unprecdented opportunities for developing innovative devices tthat rely on the dynamic manipulation of single photons and charge carriers.  We are continuously developing new multimodal and multidimensional spectroscopic methods that provide unique access to optical, electrical, and structural properties at relevant length scales in real environments encountered in enery and biological applications. (Schuck)

Biological Engineering and Biotechnology

Active areas of research in the musculoskeletal biomechanics laboratory include theoretical and experimental analysis of articular cartilage mechanics; theoretical and experimental analysis of cartilage lubrication, cartilage tissue engineering, and bioreactor design; growth and remodeling of biological tissues; cell mechanics; and mixture theory for biological tissues with experiments and computational analysis (Ateshian).
The Hone group is involved in a number of projects that employ the tools of micro- and nanofabrication toward the study of biological systems. With collaborators in biology and applied physics, the group has developed techniques to fabricate metal patterns on the molecular scale (below 10 nanometers) and attach biomolecules to create biofunctionalized nanoarrays. The group is currently using these arrays to study molecular recognition, cell spreading, and protein crystallization. Professor Hone is a co-PI of the NIH-funded Nanotechnology Center for Mechanics in Regenerative Medicine, which seeks to understand and modify at the nanoscale force- and geometry-sensing pathways in health and disease. The Hone group fabricates many of the tools used by the center to measure and apply force on a cellular level. (Hone)
Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) are being exploited to enable and facilitate the characterization and manipulation of biomolecules. MEMS technology allows biomolecules to be studied in well-controlled micro/nanoenvironments of miniaturized, integrated devices, and may enable novel biomedical investigations not attainable by conventional techniques. The research interests center on the development of MEMS devices and systems for label-free manipulation and interrogation of biomolecules. Current research efforts primarily involve microfluidic devices that exploit specific and reversible, stimulus-dependent binding between biomolecules and receptor molecules to enable selective purification, concentration, and label-free detection of nucleic acid, protein, and small molecule analytes; miniaturized instruments for label-free characterization of thermodynamic and other physical properties of biomolecules; and subcutaneously implantable MEMS affinity biosensors for continuous monitoring of glucose and other metabolites. (Lin)
Mass radiological triage is critical after a large-scale radiological event because of the need to identify those individuals who will benefit from medical intervention as soon as possible. The goal of the ongoing NIH-funded research project is to design a prototype of a fully automated, ultra high throughput biodosimetry. This prototype is supposed to accommodate multiple assay preparation protocols that allow the determination of the levels of radiation exposure that a patient received. The input to this fully autonomous system is a large number of capillaries filled with blood of patients collected using finger sticks. These capillaries are processed by the system to distill the micronucleus assay in lymphocytes, with all the assays being carried out in situ in multi-well plates. The research effort on this project involves the automation system design and integration including hierarchical control algorithms, design and control of custom built robotic devices, and automated image acquisition and processing for sample preparation and analysis. (Yao)
A technology that couples the power of multidimensional microscopy (three spatial dimensions, time, and multiple wavelengths) with that of DNA array technology is investigated in an NIH-funded project. Specifically, a system is developed in which individual cells selected on the basis of optically detectable multiple features at critical time points in dynamic processes can be rapidly and robotically micromanipulated into reaction chambers to permit amplified DNA synthesis and subsequent array analysis. Customized image processing and pattern recognition techniques are developed, including Fisher’s linear discriminant preprocessing with neural net, a support vector machine with improved training, multiclass cell detection with error correcting output coding, and kernel principal component analysis. (Yao)
The Schuck group is involved in engineering novel near-infrared (NIR) upconverting nanoparticles (UCNPs) and UCNP-based micro-devices for large-scale sensing applications, including deployment in projects aimed at deep-tissue imaging and the control of neural function deep within brain tissue.  UCNPs have the potential to overcome nearly all limitations of current optical probes and sensors, which have run into fundamental chemical and photophysical incompatibilities with living systems. (Schuck)

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