School of Engineering Magazine/Fall 2011

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  • EngineeringSchool of

    MagazineFall 2011

    BROWN

  • Lawrence Larson

    It is a great honor to be named the Dean of the School of Engineering at Brown University. I have many people to thank for this wonderful opportunity, but especially the previous Dean Rod Clifton, Provost David Kertzer and President Ruth Simmons. They worked together over the last several years to create a true School of Engineering here at Brown, and now it is our collective responsibility to grow the School and increase the impact and scope of Brown Engineering.

    Our goals for the years ahead are to make Brown Engineering one of the most recognized engineering programs in the nation and the world, respected for its tangible contributions to society, and for the quality of its graduates and faculty. This transformation will be profound, but it will keep us tied closely to the things that make Brown so special: our amazing students, our intellectual leadership, our interdisciplinary research and historical grounding in the liberal arts tradition.

    In the coming years, we will work to increase the impact that Brown Engineering has on the nation and the world. But what do we mean when we say a School of Engineering has impact? It means we are going to bring new faculty to Brown, whose innovative research in biomedicine, energy and the environment, nanotechnology and entrepreneurial studies, will improve peoples lives and create jobs and

    perhaps even entirely new industries. A great university thrives on the quality of its faculty, and the best faculty member is a rare combination of a brilliant and ambitious researcher and an engaged and passionate teacher. My major goal for the next few years will be to find these special people and convince them that Brown is the place they should spend the rest of their careers.

    Increasing the impact also means that we will increase the number of Ph.D. graduate students, grow our research program, and grow our Sc.M. programs. In terms of growing the research enterprise, the cultivation of new relationships and interactions both within engineering and with partners

    other academic departments here at Brown, national and foreign universities, local hospitals, industry, etc. is key to our success. We will grow the Schools interaction with industry through close collaborative research partnerships and recruiting relationships. These linkages insure that the results of our research are widely used in the most productive ways.

    Increasing the impact also means renewing our commitment to a high quality, modern, deep, and broad-based engineering education for our undergraduate students. We have an underlying philosophy at Brown that engineering is a profession, much like education and medicine, that has a real positive impact on the lives of people. The National Academy of Engineering recently produced a report (The Engineer of 2020) that asserted that the engineering degree will become the liberal arts degree of the future due to the depth of the problem solving skills and the breadth of disciplines a modern engineer has to engage with. The accomplishments of our Brown Engineering alumni from inventors, educators, professors, consultants, business professionals, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists, to executives in fast growing start-ups and Fortune 500 companies are a testament to the impact a Brown engineer can make in the world.

    We will see many exciting changes in the School of Engineering at Brown

    in the coming years. I look forward to this great adventure we are starting on together.

    A Great University thrives on the quality of its faculty, and the best

    faculty member is a rare combination of a brilliant and ambitious researcher

    and an engaged and passionate teacher

    M E S S A G E F R O M T H E D E A N

    BROWN | SchOOl OF ENgiNEERiNg 2

  • I N S I D E T H I S I S S U E

    3 Fall | 2011

    The engineering program at

    Brown University is the oldest

    in the Ivy League and the third

    oldest civilian engineering

    program in the United States. Our

    historical roots include a unique

    structure organized around a core

    curriculum and collaborations

    across disciplines.

    2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Message from the Dean

    4 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Brain Researchers Study High-Tech Ways to Overcome Injury

    6 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Researchers Create Nanopatch for the Heart

    8 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Bioengineering Professor Leads Research on Head Impacts and Concussions in Football

    10 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Why Carbon Nanotubes Spell Trouble for Cells

    12 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . New Faculty - Lawrence Larson

    13 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . New Faculty - Nitin Padture

    14 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . New Faculty - Axel van de Walle

    15 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . New Faculty - Pedro Felzenswalb

    16 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .New Faculty - Andrew Peterson

    17 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Faculty Awards

    18-19 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Student Awards

    20 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Brown Partnering with General Motors

    21 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Brown Hosts STEM Outreach for Local 4th Graders

    22 . . . . . Four Undergrad Women Coordinate Free Engineering Camp for High School Girls

    23 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Behind the Numbers / Alumni Involvement

    Comments, suggestions or address changes may be mailed to:

    Brown School of EngineeringBox D182 Hope StreetProvidence, RI 02912 USA

    Tel: 401-863-2677Fax: 401-863-1238brownengin@gmail.com

    Learn more about Brown Engineeering at www.brown.edu/academics/engineering

    Editorial: Gordon Morton, Brown Engineering Director of Communications Design and Printing: Meridian Printing, www.meridianprinting.com

    Connect with Brown Engineering

  • Brain researchers study high-tech ways to overcome injury

    When six engineering and neuroscience professors took on Browns major role in the $14.9-million REPAIR project a little more than a year ago, they also took on a dream. Their goal is to understand the workings of the brains circuitry so well that it would be possible to fix a traumatic brain injury.

    The ability to help people who are severely disabled or injured in ways that no current medical treatment can cure is the dream, said Arto Nurmikko, professor of engineering, who is the co-primary investigator of the project. Its funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and is shared with Stanford University, the University of CaliforniaSan Francisco and University College London.

    The Brown team, which also includes neuroscientists Rebecca Burwell, Barry Connors, John Donoghue, David Sheinberg, and engineering professor Leigh Hochberg, hopes to ferret out how circuits of brain cells work to perceive the environment, process a physical response to it, and then command the body to act out that plan. For people whove suffered brain damage, the scientists goal will be to translate knowledge into treatments that can restore impaired functions.

    If there is an injury that leads to some kind of dysfunction in the brain, do we understand enough so as to substitute the missing part or the broken part with some of the kinds of the control technology we are trying to develop and replace that function? Sheinberg said. Do we understand how the visual system works well enough so that in

    the absence of a particular part of the visual system we can deliver signals artificially that might serve as a viable substitute?

    The goal is bold but the team is encouraged by the advent of a new technology called optogenetics. It allows them to genetically engineer brain cell circuits to be controlled with pulses of light. Blue light makes the cells active. Yellow light makes them inactive.

    The technology, developed by project collaborator Karl Deisseroth at Stanford, allows scientists to control functions within the brain in the millisecond timescale of its natural operation. That technology, coupled with the traditional technique of reading out brain signals electrically, gives the researchers the ability to selectively change how brain cells are working and at the same time observe the response of connected cells.

    The optogenetic methodology is fairly

    new and its promising to revolutionize the experimental tools that we have for exploring how the brain processes information and remaps and reorganizes, Burwell said. This will be one way that we can target an individual neuron in order to change its patterns of activity. This would be the way that we send in a signal.

    To make such a read-write interface with the brain feasible, Nurmikko and his labs members in the first year have invented a new device they call the optrode. The prototype device delivers laser pulses to the brain to control circuits and records the electrical activity of neurons all within a wire comparable in width to a human hair.

    In experiments with rodents, Connors uses optogenetics to discern how individual cell behavior influences the operation of brain circuits, and Burwell is using optogenetics to study how brain circuits underlying functions such as attention and memory guide decision making and behavior. Sheinberg uses these methods to study visual perception and recognition, and Donoghue and Hochberg study how the brain produces physical movement commands. All together, the work will produce needed new findings in perception, cognition, and movement that can inform new therapies for people who have lost any of those functions to injury.

    Theres an awful lot to be learned, Nurmikko said. This paradigm of listening to the brain while actually informing the brain [with] methods that have not been available before, will elevate that understanding to a completely new level.

    One year after winning a major share of a nearly $15-million grant, a team of Brown researchers is developing and

    using new technologies to study the brain. Their goal is to inform the development of therapies that could restore

    functions lost to injury and stroke.

    This paradigm of listening to the brain while actually informing the brain [with] methods that have not been available before, will elevate

    that understanding to a completely new level.

    F R O M T H E L A B S

    By David Orenstein

    BROWN | SchOOl OF ENgiNEERiNg 4

  • 5 Fall | 2011

    Below: Arto Nurmikko

    Above: An optrode device delivers laser pulses to the brain and records electrical activity.

  • Researchers Create Nanopatch For The Heart

    When you suffer a heart attack, a part of your heart dies. Nerve cells in the hearts wall and a special class of cells that spontaneously expand and contract keeping the heart beating in perfect synchronicity are lost forever. Surgeons cant repair the affected area. Its as if when confronted with a road riddled with potholes, you have to abandon whats there and build a new road instead.

    Needless to say, this is a grossly inefficient way to treat arguably the single most important organ in the human body. The best approach would be to figure out how to resuscitate the deadened area, and in this quest, a group of researchers at Brown University and in India may have an answer.

    The scientists turned to nanotechnology. In a lab, they built a scaffold-like structure consisting of carbon nanofibers and a gov-ernment-approved polymer. Tests showed the synthetic nanopatch regenerated natu-ral heart tissue cells called cardiomyo-cytes as well as neurons. In short, the tests showed that a dead region of the heart can be brought back to life.

    This whole idea is to put something where dead tissue is to help regenerate it, so that you eventually have a healthy heart, said David Stout, a graduate student in the School of Engineering at Brown and the lead author of the paper published in Acta Biomaterialia.

    The approach, if successful, would help millions of people. In 2009, some 785,000 Americans suffered a new heart attack linked to weakness caused by the scarred cardiac muscle from a previous heart attack,

    according to the American Heart Association. Just as ominously, a third of women and a fifth of men who have experienced a heart attack will have another one within six years, the researchers added, citing the American Heart Association.

    What is unique about the experiments at Brown and at the India Institute of Technology Kanpur is that the engineers employed carbon nanofibers, helical-shaped tubes with diameters between 60 and 200 nanometers. The carbon nanofibers work well because they are excellent conductors of electrons, performing the kind of electrical connections the heart relies upon for keeping a steady beat. The researchers stitched the nanofibers together using a poly lactic-co-glycolic acid polymer to form a mesh about 22 millimeters long and 15 microns thick and resembling a black Band Aid, Stout said. They laid the mesh on a glass substrate to test whether cardiomyocytes would colonize the surface and grow more cells.

    In tests with the 200-nanometer-diameter carbon nanofibers seeded with cardiomyocytes, five times as many heart-tissue cells colonized the surface after four hours than with a control sample consisting of the polymer only. After five days, the density of the surface was six times greater than the control sample, the researchers reported. Neuron density had also doubled after four days, they added.

    The scaffold works because it is elastic and durable, and can thus expand and contract much like heart tissue, said Thomas Webster, associate professor in

    engineering and orthopaedics at Brown and the corresponding author on the paper. Its because of these properties and the carbon nanofibers that cardiomyocytes and neurons congregate on the scaffold and spawn new cells, in effect regenerating the area.

    The scientists want to tweak the scaffold pattern to better mimic the electrical current of the heart, as well as build an in-vitro model to test how the material reacts to the hearts voltage and beat regime. They also wan...