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Microstructures Self-Assemble into New Materials

03-03-20

A new process developed at Caltech makes it possible for the first time to manufacture large quantities of materials whose structure is designed at a nanometer scale—the size of DNA's double helix. Pioneered by Professor Julia R. Greer, "nanoarchitected materials" exhibit unusual, often surprising properties—for example, exceptionally lightweight ceramics that spring back to their original shape, like a sponge, after being compressed. Now, a team of engineers at Caltech and ETH Zurich have developed a material that is designed at the nanoscale but assembles itself—with no need for the precision laser assembly. "We couldn't 3-D print this much nanoarchitected material even in a month; instead we're able to grow it in a matter of hours," says Carlos M. Portela, Postdoctoral Scholar. "It is exciting to see our computationally designed optimal nanoscale architectures being realized experimentally in the lab," says Dennis M. Kochmann, Visiting Associate. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS research highlights GALCIT MCE Julia Greer Dennis Kochmann Carlos Portela

Team CoSTAR Takes First Place in Underground Robot Competition

02-27-20

A team including Caltech researchers and JPL earned top honors in the DARPA Subterranean Challenge. Whether robots are exploring caves on other planets or disaster areas here on Earth, they need to be able to navigate a location and seek out objects of interest without access to GPS or human guidance. The Subterranean Challenge tests this kind of cutting-edge technology. "One of the two courses we had to run had multiple levels, so it was great that the Boston Dynamics robots were fantastic on stairs," says Joel Burdick, the Richard L. and Dorothy M. Hayman Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Bioengineering and JPL research scientist, and the leader of the Caltech campus section of the CoSTAR team. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights MCE Joel Burdick

Ultrasound Can Selectively Kill Cancer Cells

02-05-20

Professor Michael Ortiz and Professor Morteza Gharib are exploring a new technique that could offer a targeted approach to fighting cancer. Low-intensity pulses of ultrasound have been shown to selectively kill cancer cells while leaving normal cells unharmed. In the past, ultrasound waves have been used as a cancer treatment with high-intensity bursts resulting in killing cancer and normal cells. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT MedE MCE Morteza Gharib Michael Ortiz

Bionic Jellyfish Swim Faster and More Efficiently

01-30-20

John Dabiri, Centennial Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering, has developed a tiny prosthetic that enables jellyfish to swim faster and more efficiently than they normally do, without stressing the animals. Dabiri is envisioning a future in which jellyfish equipped with sensors could be directed to explore and record information about the ocean. "Only five to 10 percent of the volume of the ocean has been explored, so we want to take advantage of the fact that jellyfish are everywhere already to make a leap from ship-based measurements, which are limited in number due to their high cost," Dabiri says. "If we can find a way to direct these jellyfish and also equip them with sensors to track things like ocean temperature, salinity, oxygen levels, and so on, we could create a truly global ocean network where each of the jellyfish robots costs a few dollars to instrument and feeds themselves energy from prey already in the ocean." [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT MCE John Dabiri

Researchers Develop New Quantum Algorithm

12-19-19

Austin Minnich, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Physics, Fernando Brandão, Bren Professor of Theoretical Physics, and Garnet Chan, Bren Professor of Chemistry, have developed an algorithm for quantum computers that will help them find use in simulations in the physical sciences. The new algorithm allows a user to find the lowest energy of a given molecule or material. Many people are interested in how to simulate the ground states of molecules and materials. "If we want to do a simulation of water, we could look at how water behaves after it has been blasted into a plasma—an electrically charged gas—but that's not the state water is usually found in; it is not the ground state of water. Ground states are of special interest in understanding the world under ordinary conditions," says Chan. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights Austin Minnich Fernando Brandão Garnet Chan

Robots Compete Underground in DARPA Challenge

12-06-19

A robot named Balto designed and built by undergraduate students at Caltech working with graduate students at Caltech and JPL, which Caltech manages for NASA, took to the field in the first phase of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Subterranean (SubT) Challenge this summer, where the Caltech-JPL team took second place. The SubT Challenge is an international competition sponsored by DARPA to advance technologies to autonomously map, navigate, and search underground environments. Professor Joel Burdick, the leader of the Caltech section of the CoSTAR team says "The drones are our air-based scouts, and Balto is our eyes and ears on the ground. It's light, cheap, and fast. It can get in, find out what's going on, and help us to make decisions about how to proceed." [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights MCE Joel Burdick

Caltech Announces the Schmidt Academy for Software Engineering

10-10-19

Caltech has launched the Schmidt Academy for Software Engineering to train the next generation of science-savvy software engineers and set new standards in scientific software. "This is a recognition that computing, software, and machine learning are going to play a very big role in science. Because Caltech is small and collaborative, we have the opportunity to really make a push in that direction," says Kaushik Bhattacharya, the Howell N. Tyson, Sr., Professor of Mechanics and Materials Science and vice provost. [Caltech release]

Tags: APhMS EE research highlights MCE CMS Tapio Schneider Donnie Pinkston Kaushik Bhattacharya

Self-folding “Rollbot” paves the way for fully untethered soft robots

08-21-19

Chiara Daraio, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Physics, and colleagues have developed soft robotic systems, inspired by origami, that can move and change shape in response to external stimuli, paving the way for fully untethered soft robots. "This work demonstrates how the combination of responsive polymers in an architected composite can lead to materials with self-actuation in response to different stimuli. In the future, such materials can be programmed to perform ever more complex tasks, blurring the boundaries between materials and robots," said Professor Daraio. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights Chiara Daraio MCE APh

A Promising Step in Returning Bipedal Mobility

08-19-19

Professors Aaron Ames and Joel Burdick have launched a new research initiative, RoAMS (Robotic Assisted Mobility Science), aimed at restoring natural and stable locomotion to individuals with walking deficiencies that result from spinal cord injuries and strokes. RoAMS unites robotic assistive devices—including exoskeletons and prostheses—with artificial intelligence (AI)-infused neurocontrol. "Bipedal walking is difficult to achieve in a stable fashion," says Professor Ames. "While crutches help users of the exoskeletons to stay upright, they undercut many of the health benefits that upright locomotion might otherwise provide. In addition, they do not allow users to do anything else with their hands while walking." [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights MedE Yu-Chong Tai MCE CMS Joel Burdick Yisong Yue Aaron Ames

Professor Daraio Gives Elsevier Distinguished Lecture in Mechanics

05-27-19

Chiara Daraio, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Physics, was invited to give the Spring 2019 Elsevier Distinguished Lecture in Mechanics at Princeton. Her lecture was entitled “Mechanics of Robotic Matters.” She discussed recent progress in the design of micro- and macro-scale, nonuniform materials that can bend into freeform objects, in response to environmental stimuli or with simple application of point loads. She also showed how the use of responsive materials, like shape memory polymers and liquid crystal elastomers, allows creating new, passive soft robots. [Elsevier Lecture]

Tags: research highlights Chiara Daraio MCE