May 11, 2016  

Purdue assistant professor Rebecca Kramer receives young investigator award from Air Force Office of Scientific Research

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Rebecca Kramer, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, has received a Young Investigator Research Program grant from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

She is one of 58 researchers selected this year for the competitive award.

The award project focuses on robotic fabrics primarily for two applications: morphing aircraft wings and a "reactive automatic tourniquet" that can sense when the wearer is injured and automatically apply pressure to control blood loss.

 "The idea for morphing airfoils is that robotic fabrics may be utilized in a wing-like structure that self-deploys and folds or wraps during storage," Kramer said. "Reactive automatic tourniquets will employ quasi-static sensory-active fabrics capable of sensing traumatic injury and activating a static loading condition until the wearer can get to a hospital for further treatment."

The technology is made possible through development of a new type of "active variable stiffness fiber" that combines a shape-memory alloy as the actuator – or component that moves – and a thermoplastic material that becomes soft when heated and then returns to rigid when it cools.

"The shape memory alloy comes in wire form so it's very easy to integrate into fabrics," she said.

Electrical current provides heating that first causes the thermoplastic material to soften and then the shape-memory alloy to move. When the current is turned off the fibers cool and lock in place.

"Our approach to variable stiffness actuation will allow fabric substrates to actuate and hold configurations, maintaining positions and bearing loads without constant power supply," Kramer said. "By treating fabric as the foundation of a robot, it can be transformed from passive equipment to active machinery that will positively impact manufacturability, transportability, and adaptability of previously complex systems."

The Purdue lab is pioneering the technology.

The Air Force grant will provide $120,000 annually for three years and involve a doctoral student.

The Young Investigator Research Program is open to scientists and engineers at research institutions across the United States who have received a doctorate or equivalent degrees in the last five years and show exceptional ability and promise for conducting basic research. It fosters creative basic research in science and engineering and early career development of outstanding young investigators, while increasing opportunities for these investigators to recognize the challenges in science and engineering related to the mission of the Air Force. 

Writer: Emil Venere, 765-494-4709, 

Source: Rebecca Kramer, 765-494-2219, 

Related website:

Rebecca Kramer's lab: 

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