Research team led by Malak awarded NSF grant

RmalakA research team at Texas A&M University led by Dr. Richard J. Malak Jr., an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, was recently awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant through the Emerging Frontiers of Research and Innovation (EFRI) program. The grant, which is for four years, is for nearly $2 million.

The research team consists of Malak, who is the principal investigator; co-principal investigators Dr. Dimitris Lagoudas (aerospace engineering), Dr. Nancy Amato (computer science and engineering), Dr. Ergun Akleman (Department of Visualization); Dr. Daniel McAdams (mechanical engineering); and senior personnel Dr. Darren Hartl (aerospace engineering).

The research objective of the award is to discover new techniques for synthesizing complex 3D structures from programmable, self-folding 2D elements. This will be made possible by the incorporation of active shape memory layers that provide actuation capabilities.

Elements will be programmed by specifying the locations and sequences of localized folding operations. Fold characteristics and locations will be of near-infinite variety and not limited to pre-engineered folds or joints.

The research team will create new theories and methods for multi-scale and multidisciplinary systems analysis and optimization; active materials modeling and structural analyses; computational folding algorithms for design synthesis; geometric modeling and visualization, and bio-inspired folding-based design synthesis methods. The combined design theory and methods will address a class of design problems — structures made from programmable self-folding active material elements — for which no methods presently exist.

If successful, the results of this research will constitute a substantial leap forward in engineering technology and knowledge, allowing engineers to design complex systems in fundamentally new ways.

Additionally, underrepresented students from the sixth through 12th grades will learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) topics through a robotics competition organized in partnership with National Instruments.

The research team, in partnership with the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, will produce origami-themed lessons about STEM subjects that will reach more than 10,000 elementary-age school children across the country annually.