Exploring the Limits of Mechanical Engineering | MIT News

From cutting-edge robotics, design and bioengineering to sustainable energy solutions, ocean engineering, nanotechnology and innovative materials science, MechE students and their advisors are doing incredibly innovative work. The graduate students highlighted here represent a snapshot of the great work underway in the Department of Mechanical Engineering this spring, showing that the future of the field is as limitless as the imagination of its practitioners.

Democratizing design through AI

Lyle rainy weather
Hometown: Champaign, Illinois
Advisor: Assistant Professor Faez Ahmed
Interests: Eating, climbing, skiing, soccer, tennis, cooking

Lyle Regenwetter is excited by the prospect of generative AI to “democratize” design and enable novice designers to tackle complex design problems. His research explores new training methods to teach generative AI models to implicitly follow design constraints and synthesize more powerful designs. Rainy Weather recognizes that aspiring designers often have a deep understanding of user needs, but otherwise may not have the technical training to create solutions. That’s why Regenwetter is also developing human-AI collaboration tools that enable AI models to interact and support designers in common CAD software and real-world design problems.

Solve a huge problem

Loicka Baille
Hometown: L’Escale, France
Consultant: Daniel Zitterbart
Interests: Being outside – diving, caving or climbing. Sailing on the Charles River, taking martial arts classes and playing volleyball

Loïcka Baille’s research focuses on the development of remote sensing technologies to study and protect marine life. Her main project revolves around improving shipboard whale detection technology to prevent ship strikes, with a particular focus on protecting North Atlantic right whales. Baille is also involved in an ongoing study of emperor penguins. Her team visits Antarctica every year to tag penguins and collect data to improve their understanding of penguin population dynamics and draw conclusions about the overall health of the ecosystem.

Water, water everywhere

Carlos Diaz-Marín
Hometown: San Jose, Costa Rica
Advisor: Professor Gang Chen | Former advisor: Professor Evelyn Wang
Interests: Hiking, biking and dancing in New England

Carlos Díaz-Marín designs and synthesizes low-cost salt-polymer materials that can absorb large amounts of moisture from the air. His goal is to change the way we get drinking water from the air, even in dry conditions. In addition to producing water, these salt-polymer materials can also be used as thermal batteries that can store and reuse heat. Beyond scientific applications, Díaz-Marín looks forward to continuing to conduct research that can have major social impact and discover and explain new physical phenomena. As a LatinX person, Díaz-Marín is also committed to helping increase diversity in STEM.

Scalable production of nanostructured materials

Somayajulu Dhulipala
Hometown: Hyderabad, India
Advisor: Assistant Professor Carlos Portela
Interests: space exploration, taekwondo, meditation.

Somayajulu Dhulipala is working on developing lightweight materials with tunable mechanical properties. He is currently working on methods for the scalable production of nanoarchitectural materials and the prediction of their mechanical properties. The ability to fine-tune the mechanical properties of specific materials provides versatility and adaptability, making these materials suitable for a wide range of applications across numerous industries. Although the research applications are very diverse, Dhulipala is passionate about making space habitable for humanity – a crucial step towards becoming a spacefaring civilization.

Ingestible health devices

Jimmy McRae
Hometown: Woburn, Massachusetts
Advisor: Associate Professor Giovani Traverso
Interests: Anything related to basketball: playing, watching, attending games, organizing hometown tournaments

Jimmy McRae wants to dramatically improve diagnostic and therapeutic options through non-invasive health technologies. His research focuses on the use of materials, mechanics, embedded systems, and microfabrication to develop novel ingestible electronic and mechatronic devices. This ranges from ingestible electrocapsules that regulate hunger-regulating hormones to devices that enable continuous ultra-long-term monitoring and remotely triggered actuations from the stomach. The principles that guide McRae’s work in developing devices that work in extreme environments can be applied far beyond the gastrointestinal tract, with applications for space, the ocean, and more.

Freestyle BMX meets machine learning

Eva Nates
Hometown: Narberth, Pennsylvania
Advisor: Professor Peko Hosoi
Interests: Rowing, running, cycling, hiking, baking

Eva Nates is working with the Australian cycling team to develop a tool to classify Bicycle Motocross Freestyle (BMX FS) tricks. It uses a singular value decomposition method to perform principal component analysis of the time-dependent point tracking data of an athlete and his bike during a run and classify each trick. The 2024 Olympic team hopes to incorporate this tool into their training routine, and Nates worked with the team at their facilities on Australia’s Gold Coast during MIT’s Independent Activities Period in January.

Reinforcement of astronauts with wearable limbs

Erik Ballesteros
Hometown: Spring, Texas
Advisor: Professor Harry Asada
Interests: Cosplay, Star Wars, Lego bricks

Erik Ballesteros’ research aims to support astronauts performing planetary spacewalks through the use of supernumerary robotic limbs (SuperLimbs). His work is tailored to design and control manifestation to assist astronauts with fall recovery, quadruped locomotion as a human leader/robot, and coordinated manipulation between the SuperLimbs and the astronaut to perform tasks such as excavation and sample handling.

This article appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of the Department of Mechanical Engineering magazine. MechE connects.

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