Alumna Raman named top 35 global innovator
MechSE alumna Ritu Raman (MSME ’13, PhDME ’16) has earned a spot on the highly competitive 2019 MIT Technology Review’s 35 Under 35 list.
Established in 1999, the global list recognizes outstanding innovators younger than 35. The awards span a wide range of fields, including biotechnology, materials, computer hardware, energy, transportation, communications, and the web. Those recognized are developing new technology or using creative applications of existing technologies to solve problems. The list also rewards ingenious and elegant work that matters to the world at large.
Honorees are organized among five categories: Innovators, Entrepreneurs, Visionaries, Humanitarians, and Pioneers. Raman, currently a postdoctoral researcher at MIT, won in the Inventors category for her efforts to develop biohybrid robots—groundbreaking work she began perfecting while at Illinois, as a student of MechSE professor Taher Saif and Bioengineering professor (and now Grainger Engineering Dean) Rashid Bashir.
Read the summary of her work from the Technology Review website:
Ritu Raman’s robots are made out of both polymers and muscle tissue, and are capable of sensing their environment and recognizing temperature, pH, and mechanical pressure.
“I’m a mechanical engineer by training, and I’m honestly a little bored building with the materials we’ve been building with for the past thousand years. So I’m making robots and machines that use biological materials to move and walk around and sense their environment, and do more interesting things—like get stronger when they need to and heal when they get damaged.”
Raman has built 3D printers capable of patterning living cells and proteins, injecting those into a mold where the cells self-assemble into dense muscle tissue. The tissue is then transferred to a robotic skeleton. The robots, powered by living skeletal muscle, move in response to light or electricity.
Right now, they look a bit like inchworms, but that’s just the proof of concept. “Can we make new ‘biohybrid’ implants for drug delivery that adapt to your body better than purely synthetic implants could?” Raman says. “Can we release robots into a polluted water supply and have them walk toward a toxin and exude a chemical to neutralize that?”
The 35 winners will be recognized at the Emtech MIT conference in October as well as in Technology Review’s July/August issue.
Raman was a decorated graduate student at Illinois, winning the 2015 Illinois Innovation Prize, and many other honors and awards. She also conveyed her numerous adventures in higher education through her blog, “Ritu’s Mechanics of Motion” on the MechSE website. Since earning her PhD, she has been named to the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list, and received one of just five For Women in Science Fellowships from L’Oreal in 2017.