College of Engineering Seminars & Speakers

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Energy dense and adaptable robots that eat, breathe, and heal

Event Type
Mechanical Science and Engineering
4100 Sidney Lu Mechanical Engineering Building
Apr 20, 2022   4:00 pm  
Professor James H. Pikul, Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, University of Pennsylvania
Amy Rumsey
Originating Calendar
MechSE Seminars


Modern robots lack the multifunctional, interconnected mechanical and chemical systems found in living organisms, and consequently exhibit reduced efficiency and autonomy. At the same time, new advancements in chemistry are enabling synthetic materials with capabilities that surpass biological materials. This talk will discuss how advances in electrochemistry and soft materials can transform the way we build and use robots, with the ultimate goal of surpassing the capabilities of living organisms. Specifically, fundamental insights will be applied to improve energy storage in robots, enable room temperature healing of metal parts, achieve high strength and lightweight materials, and realize shape-transforming soft robots. The discussion on energy storage will cover innovations in material design and manufacturing that triple the energy density of batteries for small scale robots, break energy storage scaling laws by allowing robots to eat metal in their environment, and realize multifunctional ‘robot blood’ that improves the energy density of a soft robot to the equivalent of 20 years of battery improvements. The talk will finish with a discussion on how self-assembly and electrodeposition can enable metals with the strength of titanium and density of water, and how new approaches to healing, through ion transport mediated in water, allow bone-inspired room-temperature repair of metals. Although framed in the context of robots, these tools can be applied to a variety of next generation vehicles and autonomous technologies.

About the Speaker

James Pikul is an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics at the University of Pennsylvania. He earned his B.S and Ph.D. in Mechanical Science and Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was a Department of Energy Office of Science Graduate Research Fellow and University of Illinois Carver Fellow. He won the Materials Research Society Gold Award for his work on the design and fabrication of high power microbatteries and high strength cellular solids. His research group at the University of Pennsylvania seeks to make transformative advances in energy storage and robotics by further understanding and exploiting fundamentals of electrochemical energy transport and soft matter physics. James is a recipient of an NSF CAREER award, ONR Young Investigator Program award, Moore Inventor Fellowship, 3M non-tenure faculty award, TMS Early Career Faculty Fellow Award, ASME Applied Mechanics Division Haythornthwaite Foundation Research Initiation Grant, Toyota Programmable System Innovation Fellowship, and Scialog Fellow. His research has generated significant interest in the popular media, having been featured in BBC, National Geographic, Discovery News, Scientific American, and Newsweek, among others.

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