Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Professor Thomas Webster Elected to College of Fellows of AIMBE

Thomas Webster, associate professor at the School of Engineering and the Department of Orthopaedics at Brown University, has been elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE). Located in Washington D.C., AIMBE is the leading advocacy group for medical and biological engineering and is comprised of some of the most important leaders in science and engineering, the top 2% of medical and biological engineers.

The College of Fellows of AIMBE is comprised of an exemplary group of approximately 900 medical and biological engineers. Founded in 1991, AIMBE has earned a reputation as a prestigious public policy leader on issues impacting the medical and biological community and is regarded as the preeminent voice in the field.

Webster received his bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh, and his master’s degree and and Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Professor Webster directs the Nanomedicine Laboratory which designs, synthesizes, and evaluates nanophase materials for various implant applications. Nanophase materials are central to the field of nanotechnology and are materials with one dimension less than 100 nm. Materials investigates to date include nanophase ceramics, metals, polymers, carbon fibers, and composites. Organ systems evaluated to date include orthopedic, cartilage, vascular, bladder, and the central and peripheral nervous systems.

His lab group has generated four books, 33 book chapters, 85 invited presentations (including tutorials), 215 literature articles and/or conference proceeding, and 245 conference presentations. Professor Webster has been awarded 11 full patents plus four provisional patents in his 11 years in academics (five years at Brown and six years at Purdue). His technology has resulted in one start-up company. He is the founding editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Nanomedicine and is on the editorial board of ten other journals. He has organized over 25 symposia at academic conferences. Dr. Webster was the 2002 recipient of the Biomedical Engineering Society Rita Schaffer Young Investigator Award, the 2004 recipient of the Outstanding Young Investigator Award for the Schools of Engineering at Purdue University, the 2004 finalist for the Young Investigator Award of the American Society for Nanomedicine, and the 2005 recipient of the Wallace Coulter Foundation Early Career Award.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Anastassia Astafieva ’12 and Karine Ip Kiun Chong ’12 Win Halpin Prize

Thanks to the generosity of Doris M. and Norman T. Halpin, the Brown University School of Engineering Executive Committee provides research awards for exceptional undergraduates. Projects are awarded based on how well they demonstrate the power of interdisciplinary thought in engineering science and design. This year's winners of the Halpin Prize for Interdisciplinary Senior Capstone Projects are Anastassia Astafieva ’12 (advisors Christian Franck and Domenico Pacifici) and Karine Ip Kiun Chong ’12 (advisor Shreyhas Mandre). Each winner will receive a $750 student prize and a $2500 research fund.

From Ana’s Nomination:
Right from the start, Ana showed a strong interest in the interdisciplinary nature of a biomedical engineering design project that lies at the intersection of electrical, mechanical and biomedical engineering. After several discussions and conversations with Professor Pacifici and Professor Franck, Ana began the groundwork on her project to measure hydrogel and tissue scaffold deformations under spatially controlled applied electromechanical forces. Her project builds upon concepts from chemistry, cell biology, materials science and mechanical and electrical engineering, and is a genuinely innovative and interdisciplinary project.

The design of her senior capstone project features an in-vitro test bench or assay to apply spatially controlled forces to tissue mimicking hydrogels and scaffolds in all three dimensions. The mechanical properties of tissues and synthetic implant materials are extremely important in achieving proper physiological homeostasis in the human body, which requires experimental techniques to quantify them. The last decade has urged the scientific community to develop in-vitro methodologies that are able to measure quantities of interest in three dimensions thus representing a more realistic in-vivo or body-like setting. While three-dimensional measurements are intrinsically more challenging that traditional two-dimensional data collection and experimental design, Ana has accepted the challenge to do just that.

She is in the process of developing an electromagnetic field assay to generate physical forces inside tissue-mimicking hydrogels. By applying a magnetic field similar to that in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner to micron-sized magnetic particles inside a hydrogel, Ana will determine the three-dimensional displacements that these magnetic particles undergo. Utilizing her Newtonian mechanics and electrostatics and magnetism principles, Ana will be able to determine the mechanical properties of these gels and tissues at micron and nanometer length scales in all three dimensions. Thus, through her capstone project she will be able to deliver a powerful characterization tool to the biomedical and engineering communities to aid in the development of improved implant materials and artificial tissues.

From Karine’s Nomination:
Karine is a talented mechanical engineer interested in a variety of subjects with sound understanding of mathematics, physics and engineering. She came up with her own research program about six months ago, and has since not only demonstrated successful technical expertise in executing the research but also has managed to disseminate the results.

Karine’s project is about bio-inspired desalination. The largest source of fresh water on this planet comes from natural desalination of ocean water through rain. Artificial desalination using various technologies also provides a small portion of the fresh water humans use. Karine asked herself, how do we create rain in a small container in our living room, and came up with quite interesting ideas. Her first idea was the observation that plants are very efficient at evaporating water from the soil. Is it possible to design an engineering process that mimics plants in transporting and evaporating water? Karine's second idea for condensing the water was to mimic Namibian fog-harvesting beetles. Tiny bumps on the backs of these fog-harvesting beetles have a special surface chemistry that facilitates the condensation of water, and moreover forms structures that channels the condensed water straight to the beetle’s mouth. Karine brought both these ideas to her advisor as a proposal for her 2011 summer Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award (UTRA). Karine’s proposal secured the summer UTRA and she demonstrated her technical expertise during the summer research. She carried out a computational simulation of a toy mathematical model to demonstrate the principle reason behind the efficient evaporation through plant leaves. This result has increased her confidence in the research program and she has now designed a set of microfluidic devices to test her result experimentally. These devices mimic the properties of the leaves, especially the distribution of stomata on a leaf surface, to assist evaporation.

Karine actively participates in the scientific community and disseminates her research discoveries. She presented a poster on this in the Undergraduate Summer Research Symposium at Brown, and is scheduled to present a poster at the New England Workshop on Mechanics of Materials and Structures. She acquired a partial travel grant from the American Physical Society to present a poster of her results at the annual meeting of the Division of Fluid Dynamics in Baltimore in November. The prize funds for the project will be used to experimentally test the principle Karine has discovered. The experiment essentially consists of subjecting the microfluidic devices Karine designed to air flow in a small wind tunnel and measuring the evaporation rate through each. Her prediction is that the evaporation rate will increase with the air flow but reach a state of marginal returns as the air speed is increased beyond a critical value, and this critical value is different for each of Karine’s devices. The results from these experiments can be directly compared with evaporation from leaves to check if the leaves are optimized for particular wind speeds.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Fifth Annual SWE Extreme Gingerbread House Competition

The Brown University Society for Women Engineers will be sponsoring its fifth annual "Extreme Gingerbread House Competition" on Friday, December 2, from 5:00 - 7:00 in the lobby of the Barus and Holley building on 184 Hope Street.

Twenty-two teams of 3-5 students and professors will be allowed to pre-register for the competition. Any additional teams that express interest will be placed on a waitlist in the event that a team does not arrive. If the team has not arrived within five minutes of the beginning of the event, their spot will be given to a team on the waitlist or a team that has shown up at the event without registering.

Each team will be supplied with two boxes of graham crackers, two Ziploc bags of royal icing, and a tray on which to construct their house. Additionally, all teams will be provided with an empty sandwich size Ziploc bag for taking the communal supplies. Foods such as candy canes, M&Ms, teddy grahams, shredded coconut, etc., will be kept on a central table. At the start of the one hour time slot of building, one member of each team will be allowed to take the empty Ziploc bag to the communal table and fill the bag with whatever supplies they feel are most valuable for their team’s house. All food items will be provided by SWE at the event; teams are NOT allowed to bring any of their own food.

The teams will have one hour to construct their houses out of the provided food. Houses should be designed to follow the criteria listed below:
- The house must fit on the provided tray and not cover the drilled-in holes.
- House dimensions must exceed 6”x6”x6”.
- The house must be hollow.
- The maximum wall thickness is 1”.
- The house must be glued/pasted to the tray; the house may not slide around the tray.
- The house should be designed to withstand earthquakes.

Teams are allowed to bring any tools that they think will be helpful such as knives, drills, etc. Teams are responsible for bringing the necessary power connections/extension cords. If you plan on using tools, please ensure you know how to use them safely and plan on bring the necessary personal protective equipment, such as safety glasses. No chemicals can be used during the manufacturing of the house; the house and all its contents must remain edible at all times.

After exactly one hour, the teams will be forced to stop construction on their houses. The houses will initially be judged before a panel of three faculty judges on (1) Attractiveness of the House [1-10 points] (2) Novel use of Building Materials [1-5 points] (3) Use of Available Space (ie decorations other than the house) [1-5 points]. Additionally, judges will have the option to select one “wildcard” house after viewing all the completed houses. Judges will award a bonus of three points to the house if they feel that one house was exceptional in a way that was not represented in the other scores; this is optional and at the judges discretion. The sum of these components will be used as the team’s aesthetic score.

The second portion of judging will be on the ability of the house to withstand a simulated earthquake. The tray will be attached to a shake table and cycled through a regimen moving from a low frequency to a high frequency. After every 15 seconds, the frequency will increase. Time will start when the shake table is turned on, and will be stopped when part of the house falls off the main structure; this includes decorations attached to the house, but not “environmental decorations” that are simply on the tray. The final call on whether a house has "failed" will be at the judges' discretion. Houses will not be judged until tables and floors are clean.

After all the houses have been tested, the maximum amount of time on the shake table to make a gingerbread house break will be used to calculate the scores, as shown below:

----------------------- x 50 = Total
Maximum Group Time

Total group scores will be calculated by combining the aesthetic score (out of 25 points) and the stability score (out of 50 points) for a total score out of 75 points. The team with the most points will be considered the winner. The team with the second highest number of points will be given second place and so forth. The top three teams will be awarded a prize.

When registering, each team will be asked to pay a registration fee of $6.00 to enter the event.

Nanowrinkles, nanofolds yield strange hidden channels

Wrinkles and folds, common in nature, do something unusual at the nanoscale. Researchers at Brown University and in Korea have discovered that wrinkles on super-thin films have hidden long waves. The team also found that folds in the film produce nanochannels, like thousands of tiny subsurface pipes. The research could lead to advances in medicine,  electronics and energy. Results appear in Proceedings of the Royal Society A.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Wrinkles and folds are ubiquitous. They occur in furrowed brows, planetary topology, the surface of the human brain, even the bottom of a gecko’s foot. In many cases, they are nature’s ingenious way of packing more surface area into a limited space. Scientists, mimicking nature, have long sought to manipulate surfaces to create wrinkles and folds to make smaller, more flexible electronic devices, fluid-carrying nanochannels or even printable cell phones and computers.

A subsurface system of nanopipesResearchers at Brown University and in Korea used focusedion beams to extract a cross-section of compressed goldnanofilm. When tips of regular, neighboring folds touched,nanopipes were created beneath the surface.Credit: Kim Lab/Brown University
But to attain those technology-bending feats, scientists must fully understand the profile and performance of wrinkles and folds at the nanoscale, dimensions 1/50,000th the thickness of a human hair. In a series of observations and experiments, engineers at Brown University and in Korea have discovered unusual properties in wrinkles and folds at the nanoscale. The researchers report that wrinkles created on super-thin films have hidden long waves that lengthen even when the film is compressed. The team also discovered that when folds are formed in such films, closed nanochannels appear below the surface, like thousands of super-tiny pipes.
“Wrinkles are everywhere in science,” said Kyung-Suk Kim, professor of engineering at Brown and corresponding author of the paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A. “But they hold certain secrets. With this study, we have found mathematically how the wrinkle spacings of a thin sheet are determined on a largely deformed soft substrate and how the wrinkles evolve into regular folds.”
Wrinkles are made when a thin stiff sheet is buckled on a soft foundation or in a soft surrounding. They are precursors of regular folds: When the sheet is compressed enough, the wrinkles are so closely spaced that they form folds. The folds are interesting to manufacturers, because they can fit a large surface area of a sheet in a finite space.
Kim and his team laid gold nanogranular film sheets ranging from 20 to 80 nanometers thick on a rubbery substrate commonly used in the microelectronics industry. The researchers compressed the film, creating wrinkles and examined their properties. As in previous studies, they saw primary wrinkles with short periodicities, the distance between individual wrinkles’ peaks or valleys. But Kim and his colleagues discovered a second type of wrinkle, with a much longer periodicity than the primary wrinkles — like a hidden long wave. As the researchers compressed the gold nanogranular film, the primary wrinkles’ periodicity decreased, as expected. But the periodicity between the hidden long waves, which the group labeled secondary wrinkles, lengthened.
“We thought that was strange,” Kim said.
It got even stranger when the group formed folds in the gold nanogranular sheets. On the surface, everything appeared normal. The folds were created as the peaks of neighboring wrinkles got so close that they touched. But the research team calculated that those folds, if elongated, did not match the length of the film before it had been compressed. A piece of the original film surface was not accounted for, “as if it had been buried,” Kim said.
Indeed, it had been, as nano-size closed channels. Previous researchers, using atomic force microscopy that scans the film’s surface, had been unable to see the buried channels. Kim's group turned to focused ion beams to extract a cross-section of the film. There, below the surface, were rows of closed channels, about 50 to a few 100 nanometers in diameter. “They were hidden,” Kim said. “We were the first ones to cut (the film) and see that there are channels underneath.”
The enclosed nano channels are important because they could be used to funnel liquids, from drugs on patches to treat diseases or infections, to clean water and energy harvesting, like a microscopic hydraulic pump.
Contributing authors include Jeong-Yun Sun and Kyu Hwan Oh from Seoul National University; Myoung-Woon Moon from the Korea Institute of Science and Technology; and Shuman Xia, a researcher at Brown and now at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The National Science Foundation, the Korea Institute of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy of Korea, and the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology of Korea supported the research.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Qunyang Li ScM ’07 PhD ’08 and Jin Qian ScM ’09 PhD ’10 Recognized by Chinese Government

Dr. Qunyang Li and Dr. Jin Qian, who received their Ph.D. degrees in Engineering (Solid Mechanics) in 2008 and 2010, respectively, from Brown University have been selected among 143 Young Scholars (younger than 40 in Science and Engineering) of 2011 by the Chinese government. Their selection is part of the "Thousand Young Talents Program" of the Chinese government, in which only 25 engineers were selected from all areas of engineering. The program was created by the Chinese government and aims to attract the best global young researchers to work in China. According to the program, each selected awardee will be awarded 500,000 RMB of living subsidies and up to 3,000,000 RMB for scientific research funding.

Qunyang Li
Li also received his master’s degree (2007, Applied Math) from Brown University and had been a post doctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania since 2008 until he was appointed as an associate professor at Tsinghua University this summer. Li received his bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from Tsinghua University. During his time at Brown, Li won numerous awards, including the prestigious William N. Findlay Award in 2006 and the Outstanding Thesis Award in 2008.

Jin Qian
Qian had been a post doctoral fellow at Georgia Institute of Technology since September 2009 until he was appointed as an associate professor at Zhejiang University a month ago. Qian received his bachelor’s degree from Beijing University and a master’s degree from Institute of Mechanics of Chinese Academy of Sciences in addition to a master’s degree from Brown (Applied Math).

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Erik Taylor Wins BMES Graduate Student Award

At the annual meeting of the Biomedical Engineering Society, Brown University graduate student Erik Taylor won the Graduate Student Extended Abstract Award for outstanding research. His submission, “Superparamagnetic Iron Oxide Nanoparticles Could Be Better than Antibiotics at Reducing Biofilm Produced by Staphylococcus Aureus” was considered by the committee strong enough to be only one of ten such awards presented.

This award consists of a certificate, a stipend of $500, and complimentary registration for the 2011 BMES Annual Meeting. The certificate was presented at the awards ceremony at the BMES Business Meeting on Thursday, October 13, 2011, in Hartford, Conn. The award has been presented each year since 1992 in recognition of outstanding biomedical engineering research.

Taylor, who was selected for a Fulbright Fellowship, will be leaving for India next semester to work on biofilm research and anti-infection strategies at IIT-Bombay in Mumbai for nine months. He will be working with Dr. Rinti Banerjee from IIT-Bombay through the Indo-U.S. Center for Biomaterials for Healthcare, co-directed by professors Bikram Basu and Thomas Webster.

Brown University and University of Rhode Island Team Wins $6.17 Million DOE EPSCoR grant

Brown University and University of Rhode Island researchers led by principal investigator Pradeep R. Guduru, James R. Rice Associate Professor of Engineering at Brown, have won a three-year, $6.17 million grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). The project, “Fundamental Investigations of Mechanical and Chemical Degradation Mechanisms in Lithium Ion Battery Materials” will also involve Brown professors Allan Bower and Vivek Shenoy from the School of Engineering and Li-Qiong Wang from the Department of Chemistry; and Professors Brett Lucht, William Euler and Arijit Bose from the University of Rhode Island.
Electron microscopy images of the phase boundary between crystalline
silicon and amorphous lithiated silicon, revealing its atomic structure.
The sharp jumps in stress, composition and atomic structure across the
phase boundary play an important role in determining the mechanical
damage that results in silicon crystals during the initial charge cycle.

“This award represents a truly interdisciplinary research effort that brings together solid mechanics, chemistry and materials science,” said Guduru. “The research effort presents an opportunity for Brown and URI researchers to contribute to a technological area of national importance and forge strong collaborations with national labs and industry.”

“This new award contributes to the growing portfolio of engineering research at Brown in the energy and nanoscience fields,” said Dean Larry Larson. “These new fields are changing the way we live in thousands of different ways. Congratulations to all the faculty, post-docs, staff and students involved in these successful efforts.”

Electron microscopy images of the phase boundary between crystalline
silicon and amorphous lithiated silicon, revealing its atomic structure.
The sharp jumps in stress, composition and atomic structure across the
phase boundary play an important role in determining the mechanical
damage that results in silicon crystals during the initial charge cycle.

Despite the rapid advances in lithium ion battery (LIB) technology in recent years, major obstacles remain for vehicular applications of LIBs. It is widely recognized that further critical breakthroughs in the science and technology of lithium ion battery materials are necessary to develop the next generation of low-cost, long-life, higher energy density batteries for extended range electric vehicles.

The objective of the reserach funded under the DOE EPSCoR grant is to establish a comprehensive research program at Brown University and University of Rhode Island to develop fundamental and quantitative understanding of degradation mechanisms that limit the performance and cycle life of LIBs; and use the insights gained to help develop materials and architectures with significantly improved performance.

The research program encompasses critical challenges in the three major battery components: anodes, electrolytes and cathodes. Mechanical and chemical degradation of electrodes associated with large volume changes during charging and discharging is a critical factor that limits their capacity and lifetime. However, the degradation mechanisms are not well-understood quantitatively, which is a critical obstacle in developing the next generation of LIBs. The research team will address the fundamental issues of mechanical behavior & performance, controlling electrochemical side-reactions, formation and stability of solid-electrolyte interphase (SEI) layers. Through a combined experimental and computational approach, the team plans to develop the necessary quantitative understanding, which can help make battery materials design a well-controlled, principle-based process with predictable outcomes, in contrast to the largely trial and error based empirical approach being followed currently. The PIs will work with collaborators in national laboratories and battery industry in addressing the relevant problems of highest impact for developing the next generation of higher energy density battery systems.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Brown University Wins $6.25 Million MURI grant from Army Research Office

Brown and Cal State Northridge are teaming up on a $6.25 million Multi-University Research Initiative (MURI) grant from the Army Research Office (ARO) to study “Stress Controlled Catalysis via Engineering Nanostructures”. The five-year project will be led by principal investigator Bill Curtin, with collaborators Pradeep Guduru and Sharvan Kumar in the School of Engineering, Shouheng Sun in Chemistry and Engineering, and Gang Lu in Physics at Cal State Northridge. Four graduate students and six postdocs will join the faculty in executing the research.

Professor Bill Curtin '81
“This new award contributes to the growing portfolio of engineering research at Brown in the energy and nanosciences fields,” said Dean Larry Larson. “These new fields are changing the way we live in thousands of different ways. Congratulations to all the faculty, post-docs, staff and students involved in these successful efforts.”

The goal of the research is to demonstrate that macroscopic applied mechanical loading can be used to actively control and tune catalytic reactions through the use of innovative nanoscale material systems.

The challenge lies in obtaining stresses in the catalytic metal materials that are large enough to significantly influence the rates of selected chemical reactions in an overall catalytic process.

Associate Professor Pradeep Guduru
Professor Sharvan Kumar
Brown researchers will accomplish this by creating ultra-strong nanostructured materials in novel geometries where the mechanical load can be controlled and varied, also serving to isolate strain as the only experimental variable.

If the principle is demonstrated, then it may be possible to increase catalytic efficiencies by using time-varying stresses to actively control the reactions during operation, opening up the field of catalysis to an entirely new space of materials design.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Nanomaterials Studies Advance Cancer Research

Graduate student Lijuan Zhang and associate professor Thomas Webster have conducted research with nanomaterials that may lead to a potential breakthrough in cancer research. Their recent research, "Decreased lung carcinoma cell functions on select polymer nanometer surface features" was published in Journal of Biomedical Materials Research A.  

Behind the purple doors of a sixth-floor Barus and Holley Lab, Thomas Webster, associate professor of engineering, works small but thinks big. His work with nanomaterials, tiny devices implanted into the human body, has led to a potential breakthrough in cancer research.

Webster, director of the University's NanomedicineLaboratory, has been studying and developing nanotech implants for the past 11 years. His team had created rough implants covered in tiny "nano-features"— microscopic bumps ­— to "mimic the natural roughness of healthy skin," he said. "Current orthopedic implants are flat and smooth, but healthy skin and bone have bumps."

Two years ago, graduate student Lijuan Zhang approached Webster with a radical idea — exploring how nano-features would interact with cancer cells.

"Being the adventurous person I am, I said, ‘Let's try it,'" Webster said. It was completely new territory for Webster, but he said he was excited to see what would happen.

Within a year of research, a blink of an eye in lab time, Zhang approached Webster with results they both found fascinating. The addition of 23nm nano-features to a petri dish with both cancerous and healthy cells caused a significantly lower density of cancer cells over time.

Webster said he was pleased and intrigued by the results, but he knew the tests needed to be run at least three more times to verify any findings.

Zhang ran another trial and again found a lower density of cancer cells, but she also found something new — the nano-features inhibited the synthesis of a protein that aids in tumor growth.

The tests had initially been conducted with lung cancer cells, but later tests used breast cancer and bone cancer cells. Both reacted in the same manner — the nano-features lowered the density of cancer cells and decreased the synthesis of the tumor growth protein.

The next step is finding real-world applications, Webster said. "In order for any of this research to be useful, we need a company. We need to transition from the lab bench to a real product."

Webster said he hopes to apply their discovery to animal models and eventually human trials. "If all goes well, a product could appear in five years," he said.

By Hannah Kerman/BDH