FY 2009 Awards Announcement
BioSensing and BioActuation
The Office of Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI)
awarded 20 grants in FY 2009, including the following 12 on the
topic of BioSensing and BioActuation: Interface of Living and Engineering
Shedding light on cancer’s origins
The project “Photonic Technique for Sensing and Understanding
Subcellular Structures at Nanoscale” (0937987)
will be led by Vadim Backman, in collaboration with colleagues Hemant
K. Roy and Igal Szleifer, all from Northwestern University.
The researchers aim to develop a technique using light to sense
the complexity of cellular architecture at the nanoscale, and they
will use it to understand changes in cell structures due to cancer
and their role in cancer progression. They previously found that
disorder of cell nanoarchitecture is one of the earliest events
in the formation of cancer, and this disorder appeared not only
in tumor cells but throughout the epithelium of the entire organ.
A non-invasive technique that works on accessible tissues could
enable the ambitious goal of population-wide screening for a wide
range of major cancers.
Creating intelligent eyes
The project “Biology Inspired Intelligent Micro Optical Imaging
will be led by Hongrui Jiang of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
He will collaborate with Li Zhang and James Ver Hoeve, also at Wisconsin;
Christopher Murphy of the University of California, Davis; and John
Rogers of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.
Inspired by six types of natural eyes, the researchers seek to
incorporate the useful elements of natural visual systems into integrated,
intelligent, micro imaging systems without anatomic and physiological
constraints. They anticipate that the new system will surpass what
is possible in natural and state-of-the-art engineered systems,
both in terms of imaging performance and brain-like intelligent
control. If the team can overcome challenges in fabrication, imaging,
power consumption, and data processing, the research could impact
many technologies, including tools for endoscopic surgery, optics
and electronics, cameras, and artificial vision for robots and people.
Reading and writing brain information
The project “Integration of Dynamic Sensing and Actuating
of Neural Microcircuits” (0937848)
will be led by Arto V. Nurmikko of Brown University, in collaboration
with Brown researchers Rebecca Burwell, Barry Connors, Leigh Hochberg,
and Shouheng Sun.
Working memory function in the brain is closely associated with
several neurological diseases and has implications for many brain-like
engineered systems. This project will generate new understanding
of working memory through the study of brain microcircuits and their
information processing functions with a new generation of biosensing
(recording) and actuation (stimulation) techniques. Researchers
will develop microtools to simultaneously achieve both neural recording
and neural stimulation for multiple neurons, and ultimately for
multiple brain sites. They will also investigate how microscale
activities relate to the dynamics of information processing in the
A functional contact lens
The project “Second Window” (0937710)
will be led by Babak A. Parviz, in collaboration with Brian Otis,
Buddy D. Ratner, and Tueng Shen, all from the University of Washington
The team’s objective is to design, build, and test a fundamentally
new, non-invasive, and intelligent interface with the human body
for improving health. Their approach is to construct a functional
contact lens that incorporates electronic biosensors and continuously
monitors biomarkers on the surface of the eye. The contact lens
will harvest energy, control and read sensors, and convey the collected
information to the outside world. The data produced could help detect
and monitor conditions such as diabetes (via glucose detection),
heart attack (lactate detection), or bacterial infection (biofilm
detection), which can lead to blindness.
Sensing immune cells
The project “Novel Microsystems for Manipulation and Analysis
of Immune Cells” (0937997)
will be led by Alexander Revzin of the University of California,
Davis, in collaboration with Tingrui Pan and Judy Van de Water of
UC Davis, and with Hsueh-Chia Chang of the University of Notre Dame.
Immune cells may be used to gain information for diagnosing infections,
malignancies, and autoimmune disorders, as well as to enhance understanding
of disease progression. Analyzing some types of immune cells has
presented a challenge, because they are distinguishable only by
the proteins they produce. This research team aims to develop novel
microsystems with biosensors having new capabilities for analyzing
and manipulating immune cells. The systems will monitor production
of secreted proteins at the single-cell level in real time, and
they will identify immune cells based on the secreted product and
then sort and release these cells. The researchers will use the
new microsystems to search for links between immune function and
Creating an image with chemicals
The project “Nanoactuation and Sensing of Neural Function
for Engineering Future Biomimetic Retinal Implants and Therapies”
will be led by Laxman Saggere, with collaboration from David R.
Pepperberg, Haohua Qian, and Scott Shippy, all from the University
of Illinois at Chicago.
In a new approach to restoring sight lost to retinal degenerative
diseases, the team will investigate chemically-based interfaces
for retinal prostheses. Inspired by nature’s complex mechanism
of converting visual information into chemical signals through a
chemical synapse, the researchers’ long-range research vision
is a chemically based biomimetic retinal implant that restores lost
functionality by converting light falling on the retina into a spatially
distributed chemical signal that would stimulate the surviving retinal
neurons. The team will investigate methods of stimulating the retina
using native neurotransmitters and synthetic biomolecules, so that
the retina produces a physiologic response.
Touch-sensitive artificial skin
The project “Bio-Inspired Arrays of Haircell Sensors for Artificial
Glabrous and Hairy Skin” (0938007)
will be led by Chang Liu of Northwestern University. He will collaborate
with Mitra Hartmann and Alan Kadish from Northwestern, and Douglas
L. Jones from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.
The project’s overarching objective is to develop a flexible,
sensing skin to discern contact, temperature, and other aspects
of their environment. The researchers will exploit biologically
inspired principles to achieve high sensitivity, a wide dynamic
range, and advanced, integrated, and highly-efficient processing
of sensor data. They plan to test their tactile sensors and algorithms
by creating smart, sensorized catheter tips for cardiac surgery
procedures (such as tissue ablation, internal space mapping, and
electrocardiogram recording), with the goal of increasing accuracy,
reliability, and speed.
Controlling fluids, insect-style
The project “Complex Microsystem Networks Inspired by Internal
Insect Physiology” (0938047)
will be led by John Socha of Virginia Tech, in collaboration with
Rafael V. Davalos, Raffaella De Vita, and Anne Staples of Virginia
Tech, and with Jon F. Harrison of Arizona State University.
Insects efficiently manage internal fluid flow using flexible tissues,
simple actuation, and passive, distributed control — methods
that differ from current engineering approaches. The objective of
this research is to better understand how insects produce and control
internal flows and to use this knowledge to create new, highly efficient
fluid transport systems. Researchers will image internal insect
dynamics, characterize insect vessel material, create and test new
fluid mechanics models, and develop advanced micromechanical fabrication
technologies. Findings from this research have the potential to
change the paradigm for flow delivery and regulation in small-scale
systems, which may lead to new bioengineered tissues and energy-efficient,
Fabricating fibers as powerful as butterfly proboscises
The project “Multifunctional Materials and Devices for Distributed
Actuation and Sensing” (0937985)
will be led by Konstantin Kornev, in collaboration with Peter H.
Adler , Kenneth A. Christensen, Richard E. Groff, and Alexey A.
Vertegel, all from Clemson University.
Butterflies and moths, constituting the order Lepidoptera, have
inspired decades of engineering research in aerodynamics, optics,
and navigation. This project will explore the engineering behind
the lepidopteran proboscis — the protruding mouth part that
resembles a flexible drinking straw. New understanding of the lepidopteran
fluidic system will enable the formulation of fundamental and transformative
principles of fiber-based microfluidics. The team will use these
principles in the design, fabrication, and manipulation of a new
class of fiber-based devices capable of transporting and probing
a previously impossible range of liquids.
Designing artificial DNA
The project “Engineering Synthetic Mimics of DNA-Protein Recognition
will be led by Ronald G. Larson, in collaboration with James R.
Baker, Lingjie J. Guo, Nicholas A. Kotov, and Nils G. Walter, all
from the University of Michigan.
Proteins transcribe DNA into RNA, regulate genes, and replicate
DNA, all with remarkable efficiency and precision. To do so, proteins
seek out and bind firmly to DNA only where regions of the protein
precisely complement regions of the DNA. This research is an attempt
to harness this mechanism within synthetic systems, with nanowires
acting as DNA and nanoparticles acting as proteins. Once the researchers
understand how to bind “nanoparticle proteins” to specific
sites along the “nanowire DNA,” they will engineer the
system to drive reactions in the first step towards precise nano-actuation.
This work may lay the foundation for the diagnosis, repair, and
ultimately self-fabrication of nanomaterials and nanocircuitry.
Patterning smarter materials after fish
The project “Multifunctional Materials Exhibiting Distributed
Actuation, Sensing, and Control: Uncovering the Hierarchical Control
of Fish for Developing Smarter Materials” (0938043)
will be led by Michael Philen of Virginia Tech. He will collaborate
with Harry C. Dorn and Donald J. Leo from Virginia Tech, George
V. Lauder from Harvard University, and James Tangorra from Drexel
Because of their neuro-musculo-skeletal structure, fish have remarkable
maneuvering skills and the extraordinary ability to sense small
changes in water flow, which enables them to locate and track prey,
move in coordinated schools, obtain feedback control for locomotion,
and understand their environment. This research aims to identify
and theoretically describe the computational processing performed
at the local sensory level to activate muscles and control vertebral
stiffness along the tail of fish as they move.
The researchers will develop advanced multifunctional materials
to create an intelligent system with distributed sensing and control
strategies that mimic those of real fish.
Plant-inspired adaptive structures
The project “Learning from Plants: Bio-inspired Multi-functional
Adaptive Structural Systems” (0937323)
will be led by Kon-Well Wang of the University of Michigan at Ann
Arbor, in collaboration with Michael Mayer and Erik Nielsen of the
University of Michigan, and with Charles Bakis and Christopher Rahn
of Penn State University.
The researchers will explore new ideas inspired by the mechanical,
chemical, and electrical properties of plant cells. They will characterize
how plant cells vary hydrostatic pressure to achieve rapid motion
(as exhibited by the Venus flytrap), sense and adapt to the direction
and magnitude of external loads and damage, and reconfigure or heal
themselves through growth. This understanding will enable the team
to develop a microstructure having similar, concurrent abilities.
Their ultimate goal is to build such microstructures into a circulatory
network for large-scale actuation and structural control, energy
harvesting, thermal management, and self-healing.
SUMMARIES OF THE HYDROCARBONS
FROM BIOMASS (HYBI) PROJECTS
- Cecile J. Gonzalez, NSF, firstname.lastname@example.org -