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NSF Emerging Frontiers' program supports development of smart materials based on study of fish
Date:8/19/2009

Blacksburg, Va. -- After engineers and scientists at Virginia Tech, Harvard and Drexel finish studying the locomotion of fish in water, Michael Phelps may find he still has a few new ways to increase his own world-breaking Olympic times.

The remarkable ability of fish to maneuver in tight places, or to hover in one area efficiently, or to accelerate in a seemingly effortless fashion has researchers wondering if they can create smarter materials that emulate the biology of these vertebrates.

With an eye towards homeland defense needs, engineers have also noted that fish through neuromasts or 'hairs' in the lateral line are able to sense very small changes in their watery environment that allows them to detect and track prey and to form hydrodynamic images of the environment.

Michael Philen, assistant professor of aerospace and ocean engineering (AOE) at Virginia Tech, has pulled together a team of researchers to study these abilities and hopefully develop biologically inspired material systems that have hierarchically structured sensing, actuation, and intelligent control. This research will lead to state-of-the-art advanced materials that can intelligently sense and actuate a network of distributed robust sensors and actuators.

Philen has prior experience in this area. As a post doctoral researcher at Penn State, he spent time on a three-year project with the Defense Army Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a new structure/actuation system inspired by the mechanical, chemical, and electrical properties of plants.

Philen's proposal to the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation program to study fish to create smarter materials has received $1.95 million in funding. Philen's co-principal investigators are Harry Dorn, professor of chemistry, and Don Leo, associate dean of engineering, both at Virginia Tech. George Lauder, a professor of biology at Harvard
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Contact: Lynn Nystrom
tansy@vt.edu
540-231-4371
Virginia Tech
Source:Eurekalert  

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