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NEWS
Creating Smarter Materials
November 27, 2009


Virginia Tech Assistant Professor of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering Michael Philen is the principal investigator in an interdisciplinary, three-university, National Science Foundation study. Virginia Tech Photo.

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.

Prof. 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.


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