With CAREER award, Gazzola dives deeper into biohybrid robots
MechSE Assistant Professor Mattia Gazzola was awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER grant for his work in viscous streaming and soft robotics. One of the NSF’s most prestigious awards, the CAREER grant supports early-career faculty who exhibit great potential as instructors and researchers.
Gazzola’s research merges an investigation of fundamental fluid physics and an application of a new technology – soft robotics. Tiny bots are designed, shaped and actuated to generate specific flow field to manipulate the surrounding environment for swimming, drug delivery, micromixing. These small machines might be rigid, soft or even bio-hybrids—that is, partially made of artificial components and partially of living components.
Much of Gazzola’s work focuses on the fundamentals of viscous streaming and generation of flow fields. Currently, a good understanding exists of flow around simple geometries (cylinders and spheres) but flow around more complex shapes is not yet well understood. Through a combination of simulations and experimental validation, Gazzola is developing theory on how changing body curvature changes flow topology.
“A sphere generates some complex flow fields, but if you punch a hole in it the fields would change completely,” said Gazzola. “Once the basic understanding is achieved we can take some of these design principles and use them in applications.”
An understanding of how complex geometries affect fluid flow opens the door for applications of the biobots. The robot can be designed to generate a specific flow field, which in turn accomplishes a specific task. The intention of the technology is to introduce a new element of medicine into the industry. With the potential to help diagnose or treat ailments within the body, the bots are small enough to be injected, swim, and carry medicine for direct delivery.
For Gazzola, the CAREER grant signifies an acknowledgment of his work.
“Sometimes there may be more opportunities for funding research projects that have a very clear target application,” Gazzola said. “In this case the CAREER fluid program is really about fundamental flow physics, which gives me the opportunity to research and look into basic principles without being obsessed with the end goal.”
As part of the grant, Gazzola will continue his robust outreach work with the program he created, Paper2Tree.
Image at top: A biobot swimmer that propels through liquids.