Research Philosophy

Our research is centered around the theme of improving the quality of life by solving fundamental problems that impede human progress on global issues. We adopt a style of research that starts new projects by identifying practical problems and by approaching them with tools from diverse scientific disciplines:

“ … To make fundamental discoveries, an approach that starts with practical problems, and uses them to reveal unsolved fundamentals problems, will work at least as well as (and arguably better than) one that starts with the familiar questions of familiar disciplines. … A focus on the practical does not mean ditching fundamental science. It means using fundamental science for a purpose, and practical problems as a stimulus to curiosity. …”
G. M. Whitesides and J. Deutch, Nature. 469, 21–22 (2011).

Areas of Research

Recent Research Highlights

Hydraulically Amplified Self-healing ELectrostatic (HASEL) actuators with muscle-like performance 
Science 2018

A new class of soft transducers is presented that harness a mechanism which couples electrostatic and hydraulic forces to achieve a variety of actuation modes. We introduce prototypical designs of HASEL actuators that demonstrate their robust, muscle-like performance as well as their ability to repeatedly self-heal after dielectric breakdown - all using widely available materials and common fabrication techniques. A soft gripper handling delicate objects and a self-sensing artificial muscle powering a robotic arm illustrate the wide potential of HASEL actuators for next-generation soft robotic devices.

Peano-HASEL actuators: Muscle-mimetic, electrohydraulic transducers that linearly contract on activation 
Science Robotics 2018
Peano-HASEL actuators feature characteristics that are remarkably similar to biological muscle. They use a flexible but inextensible structure filled with liquid dielectric to linearly contract on activation. A new materials system for HASEL actuators, based off biaxially-oriented polypropylene (BOPP), allows construction of inexpensive actuators using industrially-compatible fabrication methods such as heat-sealing. These actuators can be stacked into arrays to increase force output, and demonstrate fast contractile actuation. Their electrostatic operation allows for self-sensing of deformation states, which resembles proprioception found in many organisms. 

A Transparent, Self-Healing, Highly Stretchable Ionic Conductor  
Advanced Materials 2017
A transparent, self-healing, highly stretchable ionic conductor is presented that autonomously heals after experiencing severe mechanical damage. The design of this self-healing polymer uses ion-dipole interactions as the dynamic motif. The unique properties of this material when used to electrically activate transparent artificial muscles are demonstrated.