Nanshu Lu in lab
Nanshu Lu is shown here with the fume head and spinner in the Stretchable and Bio-Integrated Electronics Lab.

Nanshu Lu, assistant professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics at the Cockrell School of Engineering, received an Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) Young Investigator Award for research that could lead to the development of automated, expandable functional systems that can be deployed in space, such as solar panels and antennas.

As part of the Air Force Young Investigator Program, the AFOSR awarded approximately $16.6 million in grants to young scientists and engineers from small businesses and research institutions across the nation. Lu is one of 57 to receive an award. Lu will receive a total of $360,000 over the next three years for her proposal titled “Super-Expandable Adaptive Sensor Network Enabled by Piezoelectric Polymer Serpentines.”

The goal of the research for this grant is to create an automated, expandable sensor network, called SEASN (Super-Expandable Adaptive Sensor Network). The network could be applied to a structure that is originally very small and compact in size, but that has the ability to expand more than 100 times its original area. SEASN will also be programmable, enabling controlled expansion.

Practical applications in the aerospace field include expandable antennas and solar panels. Putting structures such as these into space currently requires the work of humans and/or mechanical arms. Because SEASN is programmable and controllable, humans would not be needed to deploy the expandable structures. Other practical uses include structural health monitoring networks for aircraft and spacecraft, membrane optic imagers (lightweight optics) and bio-mimetic sensing skin.

The Lu Research Group investigates and develops the mechanics of materials and stretchable and bio-integrated electronics. Lu’s research has already led to the development of a number of health-related inventions, including ultra-thin, wearable electronics (the electronic tattoo), the 3D electronic heart sock and the smart fingertip.

Lu has received several awards for her research, including a National Science Foundation CAREER award and the NetExplo Grand Prix. In 2012, she was named one of the world’s top 35 innovators under the age of 35 by MIT Technology Review. Her work was published in Nature Nanotechnology in 2014 and NAE published her invited review article in The Bridge, a quarterly magazine. Lu will showcase her research on the UT campus during this year’s Explore UT on Saturday, March 7.