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Xu and Gerasimidis Receive National Science Foundation CAREER Awards

Guangyu Xu & Simos Gerasimidis

Guangyu Xu & Simos Gerasimidis

Dr. Guangyu Xu and Dr. Simos Gerasimidis of the UMass Amherst College of Engineering have just received awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Early Career Development (CAREER) Program, among the most prestigious grants that the NSF offers. Both awards are in the approximate range of $500,000.

The NSF’s CAREER program provides prestigious and highly competitive awards that support the research, teaching, and outreach activities of promising and talented early-career faculty.

Xu, the Dev and Linda Gupta Endowed Assistant Professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, says that his NSF research project aims to establish two lab-on-a-chip technologies that will ultimately lead to enabling tools in next-generation precision therapeutics.

Xu’s CAREER research will result in new engineering tools and disease-related assays that will likely make an impact on drug-therapy screening, immunotherapeutic development, and point-of-care systems.

As Xu explains the background of his NSF research, “Precision therapeutics is an emerging field that stratifies patient groups based on molecular and cellular levels of data, followed by individualized treatment for better health outcome. As a result, this approach has been increasingly demanded in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of various medical conditions.”

Xu says that one potential enabling tool in precision therapeutics is a biomedical device that can acquire cellular/molecular information specific to targeted patient groups. To achieve this specificity, such devices should ideally be built in a scalable array form, whose number of functional pixels can be scaled up to collect high-content data. The resulting arrays can be used to probe cellular disease models or monitor the dynamics of multiple biomarkers simultaneously.

Such enabling devices are the targets of Xu’s CAREER research, which can ultimately be integrated into drug-screening and bedside-testing systems to advance drug therapies and point-of-care solutions.

“Motivated by these goals,” says Xu, “this project aims to establish two chip-scale optoelectronic devices for high-precision cell interfacing and biosensing applications, with their precision being evaluated in cultured neuronal networks and blood samples, respectively.”

As Xu explains, “The proposed work will open ample research opportunities in drug screening for neurological diseases and point-of-care testing for patients with acute immune symptoms.”

Gerasimidis, an assistant professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, will exploit unique mechanical properties of architected metamaterials to create a new class of reinforced concrete structures, known as “metastructures,” with mechanical properties such as strength, ductility, and energy absorption superior to those available today.

As Gerasimidis explains, “Reinforced concrete is among the most commonly used structural materials in the world, and therefore significant improvements in its properties have transformative societal implications such as reducing costs, as well as increasing the quality and capabilities of structures.”

Gerasimidis says that the NSF research he will conduct relies on a novel concrete confinement technique, which can be achieved through a unique mechanical property found in architected metamaterials. His research approach is to employ “auxetic” metamaterial lattice architectures as reinforcement and to demonstrate the utility of this new auxetically confined concrete for improving the performance of members within a building structural system.

Auxetic structures are those that, when stretched, become thicker perpendicular to the applied force and, when compressed, they shrink laterally to the applied force.

“Through material synthesis of the concrete matrix and the auxetic lattice,” says Gerasimidis, “a new composite will be created and a new auxetic confinement model will be developed in the inelastic range.”

“Finally,” says Gerasimidis, “to upscale the auxetically confined concrete for building structures, the research program will employ additive manufacturing, digital fabrication, and automated robotic manufacturing techniques to efficiently manufacture auxetically confined concrete structural members.”

Gerasimidis adds that columns and shear-wall coupling beams will be designed and experimentally tested at the college’s Brack Structural Testing Facility at UMass. (March 2021)