PhD Candidate Awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Daelan Roosa, a rising third-year PhD candidate, has been awarded the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship for his work in soft robotics and material science. Roosa, co-advised by Professor and Chair Kevin Turner and Adjunct Associate Professor James Pikul, is focusing on developing materials with tunable stiffness for use in soft robotics applications.

At the heart of this research are devices called electro-adhesive clutches, described by Roosa as “like a tape that is activated by electricity.” These clutches consist of two pieces of material that stick together when voltage is applied and separate when the voltage is removed. By incorporating multiple clutches into a stretchy material, the researcher aims to create a “meta-material” that can be soft and flexible in some areas while rigid in others.

The potential applications for this technology are wide-ranging, with a particular focus on healthcare. One possibility is the development of advanced hospital beds that can be selectively inflated to reposition patients, potentially reducing the physical strain on nurses and caregivers. This application could address a significant cause of workplace injuries in nursing, as Roosa noted, “One of the biggest challenges or causes of workplace injuries in nursing is back injuries from trying to move patients.”

Looking ahead, Roosa aspires to create a shape-shifting, stretchy robot within the next few years. “The goal we have right now is that in a couple of years, we have some kind of membrane with these clutches embedded into it, and then you can inflate that into any shape you want by activating clutches in different places,” he explained.

The five-year fellowship provides three years of financial support inclusive of an annual stipend of $37,000.