Though the progress of human invention has accelerated at an astounding pace from the ancient wheel, to wrought steel, to the modern widget, the products of natural selection and evolution over hundreds of millions of years dwarves mankind’s accomplishments. In order to address society’s ever more pressing need to conserve water, nutrients, energy, and sustainability in a highly diverse set of circumstances and environments, we aim to build a dynamic and highly collaborative center that will bring together materials scientists, chemical and biomolecular engineers, mechanical engineers, robotics engineers, systems engineers, and computer scientists with expertise in both active and real time control of materials, metamaterials, and structures. It will have cross-cutting interactions with existing centers at Penn, including LRSM, REACT, PRECISE and GRASP, Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, TC Chan Center, will go beyond fundamental questions in materials and structures, and find innovative solutions at the system level by creating a new paradigm of algorithmic design of products that transcends scales.
We will build new bridges between SEAS, SAS, and PennDesign to turn our knowledge of convergently evolved systems in nature into disruptive and sustainable technology. To do so, we will connect engineers with evolutionary biologists, physicists, chemists and architects. In the form of buildable, foldable, responsive, and commodity-scale materials, we expect our technology will interact with, and thus, impact the human habitat in water, heat, and light management. We will search common motifs and designs that span and transcend species, for instance, in butterfly wings, pollen grains, insect trachea, and vascular structures in plants; investigate their convergent strategies, and design, fabricate and assemble such structures across the scales with optimized response to common environmental stresses.