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On the forefront of constructing with biology

Ritu Raman, the d’Arbeloff Profession Growth Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, focuses on constructing with biology, utilizing residing cells. Picture: David Sella

By Daniel de Wolff | MIT Industrial Liaison Program

It might appear that engineering is in Ritu Raman’s blood. Her mom is a chemical engineer, her father is a mechanical engineer, and her grandfather is a civil engineer. A standard thread amongst her childhood experiences was witnessing firsthand the useful influence that engineering careers may have on communities. One in all her earliest recollections is watching her dad and mom construct communication towers to attach the agricultural villages of Kenya to the worldwide infrastructure. She remembers the thrill she felt watching the emergence of a bodily manifestation of innovation that might have an enduring constructive influence on the group.  

Raman is, as she places it, “a mechanical engineer by means of and thru.” She earned her BS, MS, and PhD in mechanical engineering. Her postdoc at MIT was funded by a L’Oréal USA for Girls in Science Fellowship and a Ford Basis Fellowship from the Nationwide Academies of Sciences Engineering and Drugs.

Immediately, Ritu Raman leads the Raman Lab and is an assistant professor within the Division of Mechanical Engineering. However Raman isn’t tied to conventional notions of what mechanical engineers ought to be constructing or the supplies sometimes related to the sector. “As a mechanical engineer, I’ve pushed again in opposition to the concept that folks in my area solely construct automobiles and rockets from metals, polymers, and ceramics. I’m taken with constructing with biology, with residing cells,” she says.

Our machines, from our telephones to our automobiles, are designed with very particular functions. And so they aren’t low-cost. However a dropped cellphone or a crashed automotive may imply the tip of it, or on the very least an costly restore invoice. For essentially the most half, that isn’t the case with our our bodies. Organic supplies have an unparalleled potential to sense, course of, and reply to their atmosphere in real-time. “As people, if we reduce our pores and skin or if we fall, we’re capable of heal,” says Raman. “So, I began questioning, ‘Why aren’t engineers constructing with the supplies which have these dynamically responsive capabilities?’”

Lately, Raman is concentrated on constructing actuators (gadgets that present motion) powered by neurons and skeletal muscle that may educate us extra about how we transfer and the way we navigate the world. Particularly, she’s creating millimeter-scale fashions of skeletal muscle managed by the motor neurons that assist us plan and execute motion in addition to the sensory neurons that inform us how to answer dynamic adjustments in the environment.

Ultimately, her actuators could information the best way to constructing higher robots. Immediately, even our most superior robots are a far cry from with the ability to reproduce human movement — our potential to run, leap, pivot on a dime, and alter course. However bioengineered muscle made in Raman’s lab has the potential to create robots which are extra dynamically conscious of their environments.


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