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Research Groups


Advanced Robotics and Mechanism Applications (ARMA)
Professor Nabil Simaan

The Advanced Robotics and Mechanism Applications (ARMA) lab is focused on the design of new mechanical robotic architectures. The main focus of the appliactions is on surgical assitance. We investigate algorithms of control and design of sensory mechaisms for enabling new procedures and for supporting intelligent and safe interaction with the anatomy. Existing and past research projects include synthesis of novel robotic systems for surgical assistance in confined spaces with applications to minimally invasive surgery of the throat, natural orifice surgery, single port access surgery, design of steerable electrode arrays and robotic path planning for cochlear implant surgery, dexterous bimanual microsurgery of the retina, and trans-urethreal surgical intervention. Theoretical aspects of the research include theoretical kinematics of mechanisms, synthesis and optimization of robots and mechanisms including flexible snake robots, design of flexure mechanisms and flexible robots, parallel robots, applications of line geometry tools and screw theory for analysis and synthesis of robotic devices, applications of actuation redundancy and kinematic redundancy for stiffness control (modulation), applications of algebraic geometry methods for polynomial system solving related to mechanism designs, optimal path planing and insertion of flexible under actuated robots.

ARMA has projects funded by the NIH, NSF, and industry. Both graduate and undergraduate students are provided a unique education with a rare balance between design, control, system integration, and theoretical modeling of novel robotic systems. The lab facility has a full array of mechanical and electronic fabrication capabilities.  Full descrfiption of the lab activities is provided at

Biomechanics & Assistive Technology Laboratory
Professor Karl Zelik

The Biomechanics & Assistive Technology laboratory performs experimental and computational research on human locomotion by combining techniques from engineering, biomechanics, bio-signal analysis and neural control of movement. The mission of our lab is to (1) gain a deeper understanding of mechanisms underlying legged locomotion, and (2) develop devices that better interface with and augment human movement, in order to improve mobility and quality of life for individuals with locomotor impairments. In effect, we study how humans move and why we move the way that we do, then use these biological insights to motivate advances in assistive and rehabilitative technology. To study human movement we use state-of-the-art measurement equipment, including an infrared motion capture system, force-instrumented treadmill, portable respirometry system and electromyographic (muscle activity) sensors. We develop new experimental approaches for assessing human mobility, and also perform computational simulations to better elucidate fundamental principles underlying locomotion. The goal is to translate our neuromechanical understanding of locomotion to improvements in the design and control of assistive technologies such as lower-limb prostheses. This interdisciplinary research is performed in collaboration with both local and international engineering and clinical partners.

Center for Intelligent Mechatronics
Professor Michael Goldfarb

The design and control of electro-mechanical devices is the primary concern of this center, in which major efforts in the development of piezoelectrically-actuated small scale mobile robots, of piezoelectric motors, and of macro-micro telemanipulator systems for scaled bilateral teleoperation have been sustained.  Other work has involved issues related to the design of haptic interfaces and virtual mechanical environments, and the development of smart material based actuators.  The center includes a full complement of facilities for the prototyping, testing, and analysis of electromechanical devices.

Computational Flow Physics Lab
Professor Haoxiang Luo 

In the Computational Flow Physics Lab we develop computational approaches and quest after fundamental understanding of a range of fluid-flow problems, especially those involving the interaction of multi-physics.

Examples of our current focus include: (1) flow-structure interaction and low-Reynolds number aerodynamics of insect flight with application in the biomimetic, extremely agile micro air vehicles (MAV); (2) hydrodynamics of fish swimming for developing biomimetic, highly maneuverable autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV); (3) interaction of airflow and vocal folds in the larynx during voice production for understanding voice pathology and developing novel diagnostic and treatment tools; (4) electrophoresis-driven particle motions in micro-channels for design of the lab-on-a-chip devices. 

Laboratory for Advanced Materials
Professor Leon Bellan

The field of microfluidics is generally focused on fabricating devices for diagnostic purposes using traditional 2D lithographic techniques. In the Bellan Lab for Advanced Materials, we take a different approach, using a cotton candy machine to melt-spin a complex network of microfibers that can be used as a sacrificial template, yielding a “microfluidic material” containing tortuous interconnected microchannels throughout a large volume. Our research focuses both on developing an understanding of how this novel porosity affects material properties, and on demonstrating biomedical, structural, and energy related applications of microfluidic materials. The lab houses extensive fabrication and characterization facilities including a confocal microscope, a widefield fluorescence microscope, a mechanical load testing system, cell culture facilities, a plasma cleaner, several ovens, and of course a cotton candy machine. We also make use of shared facilities on campus and at national labs, and collaborate with several other research groups. Students working in the lab are exposed to a highly interdisciplinary collaborative environment that incorporates themes from mechanical, materials, biomedical, and chemical engineering. Current projects include using microfluidic networks within hydrogels to mimic a natural capillary bed for tissue engineering applications, expanding this unique manufacturing technique to additional materials systems, and characterizing the mechanical behavior of novel microfluidic structural materials.

Laboratory for the Design and Control of Energetic Systems
Professor Eric J. Barth 

The Laboratory for the Design and Control of Energetic Systems seeks to apply a system dynamics and control perspective to problems involving the control and transduction of energy. This scope includes multi-physics modeling, control methodologies formulation, and model-based or model-guided design. The space of applications where this framework has been applied includes nonlinear controllers and nonlinear observers for pneumatically actuated systems, a combined thermodynamic / system dynamics approach to the design of free piston internal combustion and external heat source engines, modeling and model-based design and control of monopropellant systems, hydraulic energy storage, small-scale boundary layer turbines, and energy-based approaches for single and multiple vehicle control and guidance.

Laser Diagnostics of Combustion Laboratory
Professor Robert W. Pitz

Using advanced laser diagnostics, chemical reactions and pollutant generation are studied in flames that simulate combustion in gas turbines, direct injection spark ignition engines, and natural gas appliances.  Chemical species and temperature are measured in laminar and turbulent flames with laser-induced Raman scattering and fluorescence.  The velocity flow fields are determined with phase Doppler anemometry and advanced molecular methods such as ozone or hydroxyl tagging velocimetry.  The laser measurements are combined with computer simulations to determine the effect of aerodynamics on combustion chemistry and mixing.  New laser methods are developed for imaging of chemical species, fluid mixing, and fluid velocity.  Extensive experimental facilities are available including burners (laminar, turbulent), electronic cameras, lasers (excimer, dye, YAG), computers, and spectrometers.

Medical Engineering and Discovery Laboratory
Professor Robert J. Webster III

The MED lab is a place where doctors and engineers work side by side to create new lifesaving medical technologies. We design and construct devices (often robots, but also useful non-robotic devices) to make interventional medicine more accurate, less invasive, and more effective. With a world-class medical center a 5-minute walk from the lab, we are often in operating rooms observing surgical procedures and conducting experiments with the devices we build. We also patent our work, which enables us to transfer it to commercial products, amplifying its real-world impact. Our partners include startup companies such as Pathfinder Theraputics and Acoustic MedSystems, as well as larger companies including Intuitive Surgical and MathWorks. Current major projects include a surgical robot with tentacle-like, needle-diameter arms that removes tumors from the center of the head through the nose (partnership with Neurosurgery), a parallel robot that reduces invasiveness in cochlear implant surgery which restores hearing to the deaf (partnership with Otolanrygology), as well as robotic systems to improve lung surgery, prostate surgery, and several different neurosurgical procedures. We often combine medical images, mechanics-based models, and advanced sensors and actuators to help doctors treat their patients more effectively. Graduate and undergraduate students in the MED Lab receive a unique educational experience in which they work side by side with surgeons, and are encouraged to pursue not only ongoing lab projects, but also their own ideas as they learn to be innovators in surgical engineering and robotics.

Micro/Nanoscale Thermal Fluids Laboratory
Professor Deyu Li

Research in the micro/nanoscale thermal fluids laboratory focuses on development of novel devices for energy conversion and biomedical studies. We pursue fundamental understanding of thermal and fluid transport through nanowires and nanotubes by molecular dynamics, Monte Carlo simulation and experimental techniques. The acquired knowledge is used to develop high efficiency thermoelectric energy converters and nanofluidic lab-on-a-chip devices.

Nanoscale Optics and Materials Lab
Professor Jason Valentine

In the Nanoscale Optics and Materials Lab we are researching the optical properties and device applications of metamaterials. Optical metamaterials are nanostructured composites in which artificial meta-atoms are used to engineering the properties of the material, attaining values which do not exist in Nature. We are focused on developing new types of metamaterials with reduced optical loss in the infrared and visible frequency range as well as incorporating active constituents into metamaterials such as semiconductors to enable switching, light detection, or direct energy conversion. Another focus of the lab is engineering metamaterials and associated optical antennae to serve as nanoscale heat sources. Along with fundamental studies into the optical properties, we are also focused on applying metamaterials for a range of applications including on-chip photonics, imaging, and solar energy conversion. Research in the laboratory involves both theoretical modeling as well as experimental demonstration and characterization. We are heavy users of the state-of-the-art Vanderbilt Institute of Nanoscale Science and Engineering and the center piece of the laboratory is an ultra-fast femtosecond laser system and micro-spectroscopy system which allows probing of the linear, non-linear, and time-dependent properties of materials across the entire optical spectrum.

Robotics and Autonomous Systems Laboratory
Professor Nilanjan Sarkar

The focus of this laboratory is both theoretical investigation into the dynamics of mechanical and electro-mechanical systems and the application of advanced planning and control strategies for controlling such systems.  Primary research efforts are on the dynamics and control of autonomous dynamic systems, such as robotic manipulators, mobile robots, mobile manipulators, and other robotic devices.  The aim is to combine the advantages of several robotic systems to design a more versatile autonomous system.  The potential applicaitions of such research can be in manufacturing, medical robotics, and in various service areas where robotic assistance is useful to the human operators.  Other research interests of this laboratory include the areas of modeling and control of hybrid dynamic systems and biologically inspired robotics.  Hybrid dynamic systems involve both discrete and continuous time dynamics and are useful in a variety of applications.  Biologically inspired robotics seeks to improve the design and performance of robots by studying living systems (e.g., insects, animals, etc.).  Future work will include the use of predictive virtual environments for autonomous exploration.

Science and Technology of Robotics in Medicine - STORM Lab
Professor Pietro Valdastri

The continuous quest for miniaturization has made the science fiction vision of miniature capsule robot working inside the human body come true. At the STORM Lab, we are designing and creating mechatronic and self-contained devices to be used inside specific districts of the human body to detect and cure diseases in a non-invasive way. Capsule robots represent a challenging paradigm for both research and learning. They embed sensors, actuators, digital intelligence, miniaturized mechanisms, communication systems and power supply, all in a very small volume. Capsule robots may be autonomous or teleoperated, they can work alone or as a team, and they can be customized to fulfill specific functions. At the moment, we are applying capsule robot technologies to early detection and treatment of colorectal cancer, and we are developing a new generation of surgical robots that can enter the patient's abdomen by a single tiny incision. However, we are always ready to face new challenges by modifying our capsule robots to emerging medical needs.

The Tennessee Space Grant Consortium
Professor A. M. Strauss

The Tennessee Space Grant Consortium is funded via a NASA grant and is based in Vanderbilt's Mechanical Engineering Department.  The Consortium's mission is to promote space and science research and education from K-12 to the graduate level.  Since 1990, the Consortium has supported Space Grant Fellows within the Mechanical Engineering Department, in other areas of the University, and at its member and affiliate institutions throughout the state.  These fellowships provide both tuition and stipend support to qualified students conducting research in space and space education related areas.  For more information about the Tennessee Space Grant Consortium, visit its Web site at

Thermal Engineering Laboratory
Professor D. Greg Walker

The Thermal Physics Lab is dedicated to scientific discovery at the frontiers of heat transfer. Current research includes investigation of new transient thermometry using thermographic phosphors, modeling and simulation of noncontinuum energy transport in microelectronic devices, quantum energy conversion devices, radiation effects in nanostructures, and novel electronics cooling technologies. All efforts are grounded in fundamental thermo-physical processes but expand the boundaries of traditional heat transfer applications.

Welding Automation Laboratory
Professor A. M. Strauss

The Vanderbilt University Welding Automation Laboratory (VUWAL) has spent more than three decades developing control systems for advanced robotic welding and joining processes. Most recently the efforts of the lab have largely been focused on process optimization and control for friction stir welding (FSW). FSW is a solid-state welding technique patented by TWI in 1991. Its use is becoming more and more prevalent in aerospace, rail, automotive and naval applications. By focusing on process optimization of FSW we are able to develop robust control systems that are capable of detecting undesirable flaws within the weld, monitor tool wear and react to dynamic changes in the process, among other things. Other notable research includes characterizing tool wear, dissimilar metal welding, computational fluid dynamic modeling of FSW and the development of technology for actively monitoring the FSW process for control and quality applications. The VUWAL research facility is located on the engineering campus in Featheringill Hall. The lab is directed by Alvin M. Strauss and George E. Cook.

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