Nature provides innumerable lessons for scientists and engineers to inspire the design of next-generation materials and integrated systems, which have outstanding performance properties along with improved energy efficiency during manufacturing coupled with minimal environmental impact. Bio-inspired design is a rapidly-growing global trend, and it is imperative for young scientists and engineers to be exposed to its principles and viewpoints. This ten-week summer research experience offers a unique opportunity to train undergraduate students in interdisciplinary research, technical communication, community engagement, and career development. This bio-inspired framework connects to the life sciences and has implications for positive societal impact, including health care, homeland security, and infrastructure. This project will emphasize not only cutting-edge research, but also a holistic educational experience that will encourage students and faculty to consider pathways for translation of research discoveries to applications with societal benefits via a bio-inspired approach. Strategic recruitment activities are planned to involve students from primarily undergraduate institutions and both women and underrepresented minorities.

Technical Abstract

Bridging the 7 academic departments within the Case School of Engineering, the project's intellectual focus is to utilize biological systems to inspire the development of new synthetic materials and systems. One example activity is the design of sea cucumber dermis-inspired adaptive composites for long-term stability of electrode interfaces for neural implants. These cutting-edge thrusts showcase the connection between discovery science, applied engineering, and translational opportunities to address global science and engineering challenges. Key themes of these projects include maximization of mechanical strength and toughness, autonomous mobility, and novel sensing systems. This project's primary goals are: 1) advancement of the number of American students who will be leaders in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce with strategic recruitment of women and underrepresented minorities and those from primarily undergraduate institutions, 2) development of undergraduate students' understanding of STEM pathways through exposure to cutting-edge research in Bio-inspired Materials and Systems, education/career opportunities, and professional development/networking activities, and 3) tracking and reporting long-term REU outcomes. Project evaluation and assessment will be conducted using three learning objectives: 1) increasing student interest, understanding, and expertise in all functions and components of the STEM research enterprise, including ethics, safety, team science, intellectual property and innovation; 2) transitioning students to ibe ndependent, critical thinkers with confidence and aptitude in approaching STEM-related problem solving and knowledge creation; and 3) enabling students to effectively communicate scientific concepts and their societal impact. This REU site has the potential to not only enhance the undergraduate experience via an interdisciplinary research experience, but also catalyze internal research activities among faculty researchers. Supplemental mentoring and community engagement activities are also planned to complement the research portfolio.

This site is supported by the Department of Defense in partnership with the NSF REU program.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Materials Research (DMR)
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Jose Caro
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Case Western Reserve University
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