Integration of Biology and Engineering for research and education

Academics, Research

As a PhD student in the Laboratory of Biological Systems Analysis in the Mechanical Engineering department at Drexel, I have had the pleasure of working on research and teaching projects that integrate biology and engineering. It is exciting to work on projects that break the artificial barriers between Science and Engineering and start looking at what these fields can learn from each other.

 

In my lab, I study how a fish uses its fins during swimming, how do the mechanical properties of the fish tail change at different swimming speeds, and how do multiple fins get used to stabilize the fish body against disturbances. To do so, I have developed a compact and calibrated vortex generator that produces controlled short-duration perturbations. These vortex perturbations are applied to different fish fins at different swimming speeds to understand the use of the fins. I then use engineering principles to understand the impact of the perturbation on the fin, and use that information to estimate the mechanical properties of the fin. The knowledge of how the fish uses its fins while swimming, whether it is altering mechanical properties or kinematics to stabilize against perturbations, can greatly contribute to the development of smart underwater vehicles and advanced experimental platforms that can be used to investigate biological hypotheses.

It is exciting to work on projects that break the artificial barriers between Science and Engineering and start looking at what these fields can learn from each other

I also study how interdisciplinary projects (such as those that tie biology and engineering) can foster creative problem-solving and design skills in engineering students. I have had the opportunity to actively participate in the refinement and development of a senior-level design course in the Mechanical Engineering department. In this 10-week project-based course, the students learn and apply a structured product development process to build a focused prototype of a hands-on educational device for K-12 students. The purpose of the device is to teach biology and engineering principles to K-12 students through active experimentation.

 

The course brings in partnerships from local museums such as the Academy of Natural Sciences, The Franklin Institute, and the Center for Aquatic Sciences. The educators from these museums act as customers for the Drexel University students. In the past year, I have studied students’ self-confidence in problem-solving skills and how that is related to their self-confidence in engineering design. By studying the relations between the students’ self-confidence in different activities and engineering design, we can learn how we can further enhance engineering design education for college students.

 

As a learner, I appreciate interdisciplinary projects that challenge me and encourage me to think outside the box. It is exciting and rewarding to work with experts from different fields and identify new synergies between different disciplines. I enjoy bringing a similar theme to classrooms for undergraduate students as well.

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