Monday, 22 of September of 2014

Category » Engineering the Human-Technology Interface

Tufts University Alumni Association 2014 Senior Award Honorees

Each year, the Tufts University Alumni Association (TUAA) recognizes members of the senior class for academic achievement, participation in campus and community activities, and leadership. Twelve students are chosen from a pool of nominees for the TUAA Senior Award. This year’s cohort of Senior Award Honorees includes two engineering students: Briana Bouchard and Laura Burns.

Briana BouchardBriana Bouchard will graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering. Bouchard served as Corporate Relations Chair and Publicity Chair for Tufts Society for Women Engineers, Tufts Admissions Tour Guide and Engineering Panelist, Senior Representative and Academic Chair for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Residential Assistant for Tufts University Office of Residential Life. As a researcher, she designed a medical device to assist in the insertion of IV catheters in babies and children, was part of a team that designed an award winning audio speaker, and has researched the use of silk for breast implants for women who have had mastectomies.


Laura BurnsLaura Burns will graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical engineering. At Tufts, Burns was a Stern Family Scholar, was on the Dean’s List all semesters, a member of Tau Beta Pi (Engineering National Honor Society), President and Board Member of the Tufts University Engineering Student Council, Secretary and Board Member for Tufts University Society for Women Engineers, Captain of the Varsity Swim Team, and a volunteer at Tufts University Admissions Office. Burns was a research assistant in Assistant Professor Lauren Black’s Lab, where she worked with tissue engineering of cardiac tissue and design of an optical device to measure the thickness of delicate tissues.


Kaplan’s Team On Board for Continued Regenerative Medicine Research

Today, the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine announced that the second phase of the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM) project will move ahead with involvement from researchers on Stern Family Professor David Kaplan’s biomedical engineering team. The five-year, $75 million federally funded project focuses on applying regenerative medicine to battlefield injuries.

Anthony Atala, M.D., director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, is the lead investigator for AFIRM-II. He will direct a consortium of more than 30 academic institutions, including Tufts School of Engineering, and industry partners.

In the first phase of AFIRM, which began in 2008, Kaplan’s group looked at soft tissue reconstruction and peripheral nerve repair research. During this phase, Kaplan will focus on muscle regeneration.


Proof of Concept Robotic Programming Lends A Stress-Free Hand

Summer Scholar Chris Shinn, E15, hopes to reduce musculoskeletal injuries in the workplace through human-robot interaction.

The intended application is in diagnostic laboratories to reduce repetitive motion injuries. Currently lab techs must open and close hundreds of jars every day. Every year thousands of man-hours are lost due to such injuries, and costing employers and employees alike millions of dollars. While there’s plenty of room for improving the speed, Shinn’s work demonstrates a proof of concept for human-friendly robots such as Baxter to use tools to extend their utility and to integrate them into the work flow of laboratories and similar workplaces.

This video from Chris Shinn in the Human Factors program in the Department of Mechanical Engineering shows ongoing research with the Baxter robot. Located in the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO), Baxter opens and closes a specimen jar using a tool to overcome positioning uncertainty in its “hands.” Another special adapter on the other hand is employed to operate a pipette.


Jacob Comments on Interface Technology for Tech Review

In an article published in MIT Tech Review, Professor Rob Jacob in the Department of Computer Science commented on a new 3D interface called “Leap Motion” that allows users to gesture to interact with their computers.

According to the company, since the launch of the product in late July, users have downloaded more than 1 million apps that connect with the technology.

MIT Tech Review reports, “Yet after one month and a raft of ‘meh’ product reviews citing problems like difficulty controlling apps and tired arms, the sardine-can-sized gadget—which connects to a computer’s USB port and tracks the movement of your hands and fingers as they move above its sensor—seems to have lost its steam.”

“Things involving human-computer interfaces often move extremely slowly. It may take a while before the Leap reaches its full potential,” Jacob, told Tech Review.

This story was first reported in MIT TechReview, August 29, 2013, by Rachel Metz.


Silkworms Stitch Together Engineering and Art

Professor Fiorenzo Omenetto in the Department of Biomedical Engineering collaborated with the Mediated Matter Research Group at the MIT Media Lab to produce the Silk Pavilion–a stunning geometric structure constructed by silkworms and guided by engineers.

The Silk Pavilion explores the relationship between digital and biological fabrication on product and architectural scales.

SILK PAVILION from Mediated Matter Group on Vimeo.

The primary structure was created of 26 polygonal panels made of silk threads laid down by a CNC (Computer-Numerically Controlled) machine. Inspired by the silkworm’s ability to generate a 3D cocoon out of a single multi-property silk thread (1km in length), the overall geometry of the pavilion was created using an algorithm that assigns a single continuous thread across patches providing various degrees of density.

Overall density variation was informed by the silkworm itself deployed as a biological “printer” in the creation of a secondary structure. A swarm of 6,500 silkworms was positioned at the bottom rim of the scaffold spinning flat non-woven silk patches as they locally reinforced the gaps across CNC-deposited silk fibers. Following their pupation stage the silkworms were removed. Resulting moths can produce 1.5 million eggs with the potential of constructing up to 250 additional pavilions.

Affected by spatial and environmental conditions including geometrical density as well as variation in natural light and heat, the silkworms were found to migrate to darker and denser areas. Desired light effects informed variations in material organization across the surface area of the structure. A season-specific sun path diagram mapping solar trajectories in space dictated the location, size and density of apertures within the structure in order to lock-in rays of natural light entering the pavilion from South and East elevations. The central oculus is located against the East elevation and may be used as a sun-clock.

Parallel basic research explored the use of silkworms as entities that can “compute” material organization based on external performance criteria. Specifically, we explored the formation of non-woven fiber structures generated by the silkworms as a computational schema for determining shape and material optimization of fiber-based surface structures.

Research and Design by the Mediated Matter Research Group at the MIT Media Lab in collaboration with Prof. Fiorenzo Omenetto and Dr. James Weaver (WYSS Institute, Harvard University). Mediated Matter researchers include Markus Kayser, Jared Laucks, Carlos David Gonzalez Uribe, Jorge Duro-Royo and Neri Oxman (Director).


Trimmer to Head New Journal on Soft Material Robotics

Barry Trimmer heads up a new journal, SoRo, focusing on soft material robotics.

Barry Trimmer heads up a new journal, SoRo, focusing on soft material robotics.

Barry Trimmer, Henry Bromfield Pearson Professor of Natural Sciences, adjunct professor of biomedical engineering, and Director of the Neuromechanics and Biomimetic Devices Laboratory, has been named editor-in-chief of a new journal dedicated to soft material robotics.

The new journal, called Soft Robotics (SoRo), will be published quarterly online with Open Access options and in print. SoRo combines advances in biomedical engineering, biomechanics, mathematical modeling, biopolymer chemistry, computer science, and tissue engineering to present new approaches to the creation of robotic technology and devices that can undergo dramatic changes in shape and size in order to adapt to various environments.

“The next frontier in robotics is to make machines that can assist us in everyday activities, at home, in the office, in hospitals, and even in natural environments,” says Trimmer director of the Soft Material Robotics | IGERT doctoral program at Tufts. “Soft Robotics provides a forum, for the first time, for scientists and engineers across diverse fields to work together to build the next generation of interactive robots. This journal provides biologists, engineers, materials specialists, and computer scientists a common meeting place, and we are very excited about this new forum.”

This article first appeared as a press release from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. publishers, July 18, 2013.


Omenetto’s Research Provides Basis for Bionic Ears

Last year, a research effort led by Michael McAlpine, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton, Naveen Verma, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, and Professor Fiorenzo Omenetto of Tufts University, resulted in the development of a “tattoo” made up of a biological sensor and antenna that can be affixed to the surface of a tooth.

Scientists used 3-D printing to merge tissue and an antenna capable of receiving radio signals. (Credit: Frank Wojciechows

Scientists used 3-D printing to merge tissue and an antenna capable of receiving radio signals. (Credit: Frank Wojciechowski)

A new project, however, is the team’s first effort to create a fully functional organ: one that not only replicates a human ability, but extends it using embedded electronics.

“The design and implementation of bionic organs and devices that enhance human capabilities, known as cybernetics, has been an area of increasing scientific interest,” the researchers wrote in the article which appears in the scholarly journal Nano Letters. “This field has the potential to generate customized replacement parts for the human body, or even create organs containing capabilities beyond what human biology ordinarily provides.

This story appeared as a press release on EurekAlert, May 1, 2013.

 


Team Hoyt Recognized at ESPYs

The father-and-son team of Dick Hoyt and Rick Hoyt–Team Hoyt–was recognized at ESPN’s awards event called the ESPYs on July 17, 2013.

Rick, now 51, was born with cerebral palsy and though unable to use his hands or legs he and his 73-year-old father have run in more than 1,000 endurance events—including triathlons and marathons—with Dick pushing his son in a custom-made running chair.

In 1972, Tufts engineers gave Rick his first ability to communicate with his family. Engineers built Rick an interactive computer he used to select letters by tapping his head against his wheelchair.

At the ESPYs, ESPN recognized Team Hoyt with their Jimmy V Perseverance Award, given to a deserving member of the sporting world who has overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination.


By Hook or By Crook

Incoming Assistant Professor Jeff Guasto (Ph.D., Brown University) has been working on understanding how single-celled organisms, like bacteria, get around. Guasto, a postdoctoral researcher in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and his colleagues have been studying how microbes, such as marine bacteria, use their flagella to propel themselves forward, backward, and change direction. Researchers had observed the marine bacteria changing direction using a flicking motion of the flagellum, but they didn’t understand how it was happening.

Motile marine bacteria exploit a buckling instability of the flexible hook (green) at the base of their flagellum (yellow) to change swimming direction, turning what is otherwise a structural failure into a fundamental biological function. GRAPHIC: KWANGMIN SON, JEFFREY GUASTO, GLYNN GORICK AND ROMAN STOCKER

Using high-speed video shot a 1,000 frames per second, the MIT team was able to record the flicking motion of bacteria swimming forward. They determined that the flick occurs when the “hook,” a small flexible rod connecting the flagellum to the cell’s internal motor, buckles.

“A single actuator, the flagellum, enables both propulsion and turning in these bacteria,” Guasto says. “This is a well-known principle in robotics called ‘underactuation,’ but it is rarely considered at the micrometer scale.”

“The mechanism of turning by buckling represents one of the smallest examples in nature of a biological function stemming from controlled mechanical failure and reveals a new role for flexibility in biological materials, which could inspire new microrobotic solutions in medicine and engineering,” the authors say in their July 7 paper in Nature Physics. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nphys2676


Dissolvable Micro Mirrors Enhance Imaging, Administer Heat, Deliver and Monitor Drugs

Tufts University School of Engineering researchers have demonstrated silk-based implantable optics that offer significant improvement in tissue imaging while simultaneously enabling photo thermal therapy, administering drugs and monitoring drug delivery. The devices also lend themselves to a variety of other biomedical functions.

Microscopic image of a silk optical implant embedded with gold nano particles. When implanted in tissue and illuminated with green laser light, the particles converted light to heat, turning the reflector into a thermal therapy to control bacterial infection or kill malignant cells. Photo: Fiorenzo Omenetto

Biodegradable and biocompatible, these tiny mirror-like devices dissolve harmlessly at predetermined rates and require no surgery to remove them.

The technology is the brainchild of a research team led by Fiorenzo Omenetto, Frank C. Doble Professor of Engineering at Tufts. For several years, Omenetto; David L. Kaplan, Stern Family Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering chair, and their colleagues have been exploring ways to leverage silk’s optical capabilities with its capacity as a resilient, biofriendly material that can stabilize materials while maintaining their biochemical functionality.

The technology is described in the paper “Implantable Multifunctional Bioresorbable Optics,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online Early Edition the week of November 12, 2012.

“This work showcases the potential of silk to bring together form and function. In this case an implantable optical form — the mirror — can go beyond imaging to serve multiple biomedical functions,” Omenetto says.

Video: silk optical implant embedded with gold nano particles