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POSTECH LabCumentary Anna Lee (Mechanical Engineering)

Extreme Mechanics Lab

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Extreme Mechanics Lab

Anna Lee (Mechanical Engineering)

Dogs possess a sense of smell that is over 1,000 times more sensitive than that of humans. This is because the canine nose has a large number of olfactory cells as well as ion channels located within these cells to distinguish different scents. Is it then possible to engineer ‘electronic noses’ that mimic the canine nose to detect explosives and harmful gases and even to diagnose cancer? The Extreme Mechanics Lab (XML) is leveraging soft polymer materials to develop novel structures through the mimicry of the inner structure of the canine nose responsible for detecting smells.

 

Recently both domestic and international active research has been underway to develop sensors by imitating the principles deployed for nasal olfactory cells to recognize smells. This allowed scientists to sense Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) generated through the metabolism of cancer cells and enable AI to learn how to diagnose cancer accordingly through the use of such smells. A sensor was also developed by binding three-dimensional artificial cells to the semiconductor substrate to detect narcotics or explosives.

 

The XML is engaged in a wide array of tests to create a pattern out of the inner nasal structure through 3D scanning and use the resulting data to create a design drawing and print out electronic noses through 3D printing. The goal is to detect and isolate the target substances from the mixture of various substances. The Lab plans on applying its research findings to the field of diagnostics, especially to cancer diagnostics.

 

Traditionally, structural mechanics pursues the stability of such massive structures as rockets, large-size fuel tanks, and buildings. In order for such huge and heavy rockets to propel past the gravitational force of earth and blast into space, a tremendous thrust is required, which creates vibrations during flight. When breakneck speeds are combined with enormous pressure, it could crush the structure. This explains why NASA of the US has conducted countless structural mechanical experiments over the past six decades since it first started launching rockets and space probes. NASA scientists directly fabricate miniatures and test them in an environment that imitates actual flight environments to predict how much deformation may occur.

 

This type of research, however, is significantly time-consuming and costly. Instead, researchers at the XML are reducing the size of the target object so as to easily conduct a variety of tests in the lab environment and impose extreme forces upon the object to observe how much the object deforms. It is through this approach that the Lab is elucidating on principles behind such phenomena and finding their applications. The XML is leveraging soft polymers instead of rigid materials, and toy-like tiny specimens instead of large-sized structures while deploying mathematical modeling and other simulation techniques to widen the horizon of structural mechanics.

 

Professor Anna Lee at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, POSTECH, who leads the Extreme Mechanics Lab, commented “While the conventional focus was placed on preventing structures from being destroyed and maintaining their safety, today’s structural mechanics is harnessing objects that can be crushed or wrinkled as actuators or sensors”.

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