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Biomimetics - Learning from millions of years of adaptation to (almost) every problem!
During natural evolution, organisms have adapted to live in various environments (land, water, and air) under challenging conditions. To survive under these conditions, animals and plants had to solve multiple problems, many of which we also face in our modern, highly technologised world. For example, animals can move efficiently from A to B. Multi-functional materials and smart architectures make body parts lightweight yet strong. Sophisticated appendages allow skillfull mechanical interactions with the environment. With the interdisciplinary approach of biomimetics, I aim to explore the potential of these biological systems, to systematically analyse their functional principles, to transfer these principles into technology, and hence to improve the quality of life.
Who am I?
I consider myself a science chameleon that enjoys solving complex problems at the interface between life and engineering sciences. I believe in fundamental biological research as basis for the development of biomimetic applications, and that biologists and engineers can benefit a lot from each other. Therefore, I strive for a synergistic combination of biological and engineering approaches to obtain novel insights into the functioning of complex biological systems, and to study the biomimetic potential thereof.
I received my B.Sc. (2012) and M.Sc. (2014) in Biomimetics and Biomimetics / Locomotion in fluids at the University of Applied Sciences Bremen, Germany. Both my B.Sc. and M.Sc. studies were supported by a scholarship from the Heinrich Böll Foundation.
For my Ph.D. thesis entitled Getting a grip on tree frog attachment: Mechanisms, structures, and biomimetic potential at the Experimental Zoology Group, Wageningen University & Research, I focussed from 2015 onwards on a sticky problem: the soft adhesive toes of tree frogs. In the interdisciplinary research project Secure and gentle grip of delicate biological tissues (funded by NWO), I studied the fundamentals of tree frog attachment in a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach to advance---in collaboration with scientists from Biomechanical Engineering at TU Delft---the development of soft grippers that function in a wet environment. I published all research chapters of my thesis in peer-reviewed, renowned (Q1) journals, and defended my thesis in 06/2019 with the distinction cum laude.
Since 2019, I work as postdoctoral researcher at EZO within the 4TU project Soft Robotics. I look forward to explore the fundamentals of gripping in biological systems (e.g. the sticky toes of tree frogs and the soft muscular arms of cuttlefish), and to stimulate the development of state-of-the-art soft grippers, for example for handling delicate agricultural products. My research interests include: (1) Attachment in challenging environments, (2) fundamental physics, chemistry, and mechanics of bioadhesion, (3) neuromechanics of attachment, and (4) the functional embedding of soft adhesives in biological and technical systems.
Postdoctoral research - Soft robotics
In contrast to conventional stiff robot concepts, soft robotic grippers can interact reliably and gently with their environment. Soft robots are often inspired by soft biological systems such as the elephants trunk, the human hand, or a snakes body. Within the 4TU project Soft robotics, we aim to unravel fundamental concepts of soft biological gripping systems, and to provide bioinspiration for the design of next-generation soft robots.
We focus on the neuro-sensory-mechanics of two exquisite biological gripping systems: the sticky toe pads of tree frogs, and the completely soft muscular arms of the cuttlefish. The soft appendices of the cuttlefish have a nearly infinite number of degrees of freedom, and are an outstanding example for a soft robotic limb. Complex motions result from distributed activations patterns of specialised muscles generated by the nervous system that receives input from various sensors. The soft adhesive pads of tree frogs carry a hierarchical nano-micro-pattern of channels and are internally reinforced with connective tissue. Also the toe pads of tree frogs contain muscular and sensory structures that play an important role in gripping. Frog and cuttlefish are both able to softly grip wet slippery objects, which is of high relevance for the gentle manipulation of delicate tissues in surgery, or the handling of delicate wet fruits.
PhD research - Tree frog attachment
Figure Hyla cinerea (North American green tree frog), one of the used model species, can stick with its digital pads to various natural and artificial substrates.
Tree frogs have soft adhesive digital pads, with which these animals can adhere to smooth and rough, wet and dry substrates. For my PhD thesis, I aimed to unravel the key principles of tree frog attachment. By screening the available literature, I showed that the common explanation of tree frog attachment, so called wet adhesion, may be less important than previously thought, and that tree frogs presumably rely on the generation of 'dry' van der Waals forces for attachment. With a 3D analysis of the internal pad architecture I revealed the presence of connective tissue, which gives the pads the strength required to withstand high mechanical loads during jumping and landing. By combining morphological and chemical analyses, I discovered a digital mucus gland cluster, which seems to be a general feature of anurans. Further, I could show that the mucus chemistry is largely conserved in amphibians. Finally, I found that tree frogs adhere as well to smooth as to nano- and microrough substrates, rejecting the hypothesised mechanism of mechanical interlocking. Overall, these findings contribute to the understanding of anuran ecology and evolution, as well as to the design of biomimetic adhesives and grippers.
Many of the aforementioned findings result from student projects. Also, I established international collaborations with Functional Morphology and Biomechanics at Kiel University, Germany, and the Prof. Ali Dhinojwala Research Group at The University of Akron, United States, to deepen the understanding of tree frog attachment.
MSc research - Humpback-whale-inspired rotor blades for wind turbines
Figure Sinusoidal modifications of the leading edge of a wind turbine's rotor blade increase it's aerodynamic efficiency.
For my M.Sc. thesis (University of Applied Sciences Bremen) entitled Do a humpback whale's tubercles increase the efficiency of a wind turbine? Sinusoidal leading edge modifications as boundary layer fence on a horizontal axis wind turbine, I developed a bioinspired shape for a wind turbine rotor blade inspired by the sinusoidal leading edge modifications found on the humpback whales flippers (supported by Deutsche Windguard Engineering GmbH). I could show that the biomimetic rotor blade was aerodynamically more efficient and had a significantly enhanced power output.