EFRI-BSBA: Learning from Plants -- Biologically-Inspired Multi-Functional Adaptive Structural Systems

Project: Research project

Project Details


EFRI-BSBA: Learning from Plants -- Bio-Inspired Multi-Functional Adaptive Structural Systems

PI Name: Kon-Well Wang

Institution: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor MI.

Proposal No: 0937323

The research project is a collaborative interdisciplinary study to create a transformative multifunctional adaptive engineering structure concept through investigating the characteristics of plants. The investigators propose to explore new bio-actuation/bio-sensing ideas building upon innovations inspired by the mechanical, chemical, and electrical properties of plant cells. It has been observed that plant nastic actuations (e.g., rapid plant motions of Venus Flytrap or Mimosa) occur due to directional changes in plant cell shape facilitated by internal hydrostatic pressure, achieving actuations with large force and stroke. It is also known that plants can adapt to the direction/magnitude of external loads and damage, and reconfigure or heal themselves via cell growth. The ability to concurrently achieve distributed large stroke/force actuation, significant property change, self-sensing, reconfiguration, and self-healing has long been the dream of the adaptive structures researchers. The bio-sensing/ actuation features of plants can provide engineers with valuable knowledge and opportunities for interdisciplinary intellectual advancements that could lead to a new paradigm of adaptive structures and impact the joint field of bioscience and engineering significantly.

The intellectual merit of this project is that the multidisciplinary research team will push forward advancements in various disciplines at their interfaces (plant and cell biology, materials and manufacturing, chemical transport, mechatronics, and structural dynamics and controls) and utilize the synergy to create a significant leap in fundamental knowledge for future adaptive materials and structures. By physiological characterization of how plant cell wall organization influences cell shape changes during rapid plant motions, the team will investigate the wall fibrillar networks and the orientations of plant cells that can achieve the most effective nastic actions. Building upon and advancing from the investigators? study of the promising fluidic flexible matrix composite (F2MC) concept, F2MC cells will be created that emulate functions of plant cells based on our improved understanding of the cell wall response to pressure, loading, and damage. Advanced nanofiber networking capability will be explored for the F2MC materials. Inspired by the plant cell membrane transport phenomenon, a microstructure will be developed that generates pressure to actuate the F2MC cells, senses and regulates pressure, detects damage, and heals. Through structural analysis and control synthesis, F2MC cells will be assembled to form a hypercellular topology resembling a circulatory network for global actuation and structural control, energy harvesting, thermal management, and self healing.

The outcome of this project is expected to impact the society broadly and significantly. The findings could become the building blocks of future mechanical, civil, transportation, and aerospace systems with enhanced functionality and performance. The next generation of air, marine, and land vehicles, intelligent machines, and smart infrastructure will benefit greatly from the knowledge discovery. The investigators will integrate the emerging frontier research with educational programs to achieve broad impact on learning at various levels, contributing to the workforce training on multidisciplinary systems crossing biology and engineering.

Effective start/end date9/1/098/31/14


  • National Science Foundation: $2,050,000.00


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