Tell us about your work / research. What kinds of things do you do?
I design and build soft robots. Soft robots are typically made of materials like rubber, fabric, and plastics. The primary advantage of soft robots is that they are inherently safe for interacting with humans and animals due to their natural compliance. This compliance is also advantageous for gripping and manipulating delicate objects and complex shapes because soft grippers can conform to an object’s shape and evenly distribute grasping forces.
What sparked your initial interest in your career?
I became a mechanical engineer because I really enjoy exploring how things work. I also discovered that I love making things work whether that means fixing something or taking a machine from my imagination and making it into one that works in real life. I became interested in soft robotics because they pose an interesting design and manufacturing challenges unlike those of the rigid mechanical systems I’d works with in the past. This means I get to spend a lot of time tinkering with the design of the soft robots as well as the fabrication process.
Who influenced your or encouraged you the most?
My mom was the most influential person in encouraging me to be a curious person and to try my hand at new things.
What element of your work / study do you think is the most fascinating?
I really enjoy how soft robots differ from how we would traditionally imagine a robot. Designing soft robots is unlike designing rigid robots, so we often turn to soft biological systems for design inspiration. In particular, I find the way soft robots move to be fascinating. Using different material properties and shapes you can create soft structures to morph into complex shapes that would be difficult to accomplish with a rigid robot.
What other jobs led you to your current career?
I’ve worked for a surgical device company as a research and development intern and then a manufacturing engineer for another medical device company making subcutaneous defibrillators. I then worked for a nanotechnology research company doing research and development as well as prototype design and fabrication. Most of my work has been in manufacturing, machine design, or somewhere in between. On the side, I have also been teaching glassblowing as well as making my own glass pieces for ten years, which an exercise is designing glass objects as well as developing and troubleshooting the process of how to make them. My experiences lend themselves to soft robots because they require creativity in both the design and manufacturing process.
What are your degrees and certifications?
Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering - MIT 2009
What are your hobbies?
I’m a glassblower and enjoy making things ranging from traditional vase and goblet forms to rocket ships and dinosaurs out of glass. I also climb, play flute, and make/craft things for fun.
What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?
Think about how things work and ask lots of questions. Don’t be afraid to try something because it seems challenging. Find people (online and in person) who know a lot about whatever you’re interested in - ask them questions and listen. Practice building things on your own, in teams, and under a teacher’s direction.
How did you get involved in the Nautilus Exploration Program? How did you get on the ship?
Through a collaborative project on soft robotic grippers for deep sea biological sampling that I have been working on with another researcher that is involved with the program, Brennan Phillips.