James Pikul Receives 2020 NSF CAREER Award

James Pikul
James Pikul

James Pikul, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Sciences, has been selected to receive the 2020 National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award. This honor is the NSF’s most prestigious award and aims to support junior faculty members who embody the role of ideal teacher-scholars through the integration of education and research while supporting the mission of their organizations.

Pikul’s award will fund research on “Power and Information Transmission Kinetics in Multifunctional Electrolytic Vascular Systems,” which aims to explore how liquid components could serve multiple functions in a soft robot. Pikul’s work in this area draws inspiration from nature to create robots that function more like animals. This award will support studies on wire-free distributed power delivery, which emulates an organism’s circulatory system, and direct current power and information transmission, which emulate the functions of the nervous system.

Robotic fish in water
Pikul and his colleagues at Cornell designed this soft robotic lionfish. The “blood” in the darker areas serves as both a battery and a hydraulic fluid that moves the fish’s fins and tail. This kind of double-duty can make for more efficient robots.

Pikul’s earlier research in this field has involved developing “robotic blood” for underwater robots. Robots are traditionally built with a series of connected parts that serve highly specialized functions, whereas evolution has produced biological systems that are more efficient because they serve many different functions at once.

Pikul’s work intends to integrate complex chemical functionalities into fluids which will be used to create robots with capabilities as advanced as nature itself. With these advances to robotic blood, a robot could store energy and information in a single material that circulates throughout its body.