The latest batch of ECE 412 (Embedded Systems) projects is now online. Check out the LED sign that now adorns our lab, the duct-tape based CyberHand and the sound-controlled ping pong tubes. The 14 projects also included a sorting hat, plus a different kind of sorting system based on a pressure sensor. While cardboard and tape are fine building materials for this class where we are mainly evaluating microcontroller skills, the laser at FirstBuild added a special touch to a few projects.
In ECE 473 (Electromagnetic Fields & Waves), which is normally a theory-based class, the fall students had an unusual assignment to build an electromagnetic train– and I was happy to see a few students making use of their MATLAB to plot the magnetic field along the coil. Our coils were short segments to get the basic idea, so here’s a much longer one from YouTube for inspiration. The set of videos from AmazingScience gives more details on fabrication and dimensions than most others.
Check out wireless optical stretch sensors in action in this video. We embedded a strain-sensitive elastic optical fiber into a piece of sticky, stretchy athletic tape that can track muscle stretching in real time. There is a single “U-turn” shaped fiber along with a detachable wireless module that can also collect acceleration and orientation data. With the addition of the optical strain sensor, our system can detect whether a muscle is passive or weight-bearing.
Our tutorial is up at the Soft Robotics Toolkit website. It covers how to use an embroidery machine to add a patterned fiber layer to a 3D print, a circuit board, or a thin laser-cut part. It also describes how to use a 3D printed template for installing fibers that are too thick for the embroidery machine to handle. There’s a link to the Inkscape plugin for aligning patterns, plus some nifty alignment pegs Brian Wagner invented if you would rather laser-cut your template than do a large-area 3D print.
Shaf has been putting enzymes to work in our part of the EPSCoR project, “Powering the Kentucky Bioeconomy for a Sustainable Future.” His goal is to quickly measure the activity of tiny amounts of enzymes supported on membranes. Membranes covered with enzymes can convert one type of chemical to another at room temperature–but it’s unclear which natural or engineered enzymes are the best for a given application. We just have to test them. We’re using hydrogel printing as a gentle method to combine enzyme-coated membranes, electrochemical detection electrodes, and paths for fluid flow and light transmission in a small, disposable package that can measure the productivity of a single enzyme variant. That’s a lot. Good thing we have collaborators (Dr. Anne-Frances Miller at the University of Kentucky, Dr. Mark Running and Dr. Gautam Gupta at the University of Louisville, and students). Their expertise means Shaf is able to get electrochemical and optical detection started on the benchtop, using chemicals that change their conductivity or color when the enzyme acts on them. Meanwhile he’s discovering the best settings to keep the hydrogel printer happy.
 Sýs, Milan, et al. “Electrochemical Study of Trametes Versicolor Laccase Compatibility to Different Polyphenolic Substrates.” Chemosensors 5.1 (2017): 9. APA
 RCSB Protein Data Bank ID 3FPX
 Martınez, A. T., S. Camarero, A. Gutiérrez, P. Bocchini, and G. C. Galletti. “Studies on wheat lignin degradation by Pleurotus species using analytical pyrolysis.” Journal of Analytical and Applied Pyrolysis 58 (2001): 401-411.
Back on campus after sabbatical. My group is focused on soft, flexible materials including stretch fiber optics that sense motion, non-stretch fibers that constrain motion, and thin porous membranes that drive flows– featured in Jaz Beharic’s thesis. Yes, Jaz graduated this month. Shaf continues on the membrane project with a more biological focus: porous surfaces that support enzymes to break down lignin.