Bioelectronics for Living Machines

John Rogers

Northwestern University

Advanced electronic/optoelectronic technologies that allow stable, intimate integration with living organisms will accelerate progress in biomedical research. These systems, sometimes referred to as bioelectronics, will also serve as the foundations for new approaches in monitoring and treating diseases. More recent opportunities are in the development of hybrid constructs that blend electronics with soft tissues in engineered platforms that are capable of executing desired functions, i.e. machines. This presentation describes the core concepts in materials science and engineering that underpin these technologies, with an emphasis on 3D mesoscale electronic frameworks and their interfaces with skeletal muscle rings, cardiac tissues, spinal spheroids and cortical assembloids. Demonstrations include wirelessly controlled biobots that use optogenetically stimulated contractions of muscle tissues for programmed locomotion.

Tuesday July 9th, 9:00-10:00 AM


Professor John A. Rogers began his career at Bell Laboratories as a Member of Technical Staff in the Condensed Matter Physics Research Department in 1997, and served as Director from the end of 2000 to 2002.  He then spent thirteen years at the University of Illinois, as the Swanlund Chair Professor and Director of the Seitz Materials Research Laboratory.  In 2016, he joined Northwestern University as the Simpson/Querrey Professor, where he is also Director of the Institute for Bioelectronics.  He has co-authored nearly 1000 papers and he is co-inventor on more than 100 patents.  His research has been recognized by many awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship (2009), the Lemelson-MIT Prize (2011), the Smithsonian Award for American Ingenuity in the Physical Sciences (2013), the Benjamin Franklin Medal (2019), and a Guggenheim Fellowship (2021).  He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The biomechanical and neural “machinery” underlying active sensing behaviors and sensor multifunctionality

Mitra Hartmann

Northwestern University

Animals actively sense the world through behaviors that involve continuous interactions between the body, the brain, and the environment. With increases in computational power, researchers can now study animal behavior using increasingly detailed biomechanical and neural models. This presentation bridges the fields of animal behavior, biomechanics, neuroscience, and robotics to characterize the active sensing process in one exemplary system: the rodent whisker array. We specifically explore the biomechanical and neural mechanisms that underlie the multifunctionality of whiskers as sensors: rodents use their whiskers not only for direct touch to construct three-dimensional representations of their environment, but also as exquisitely sensitive airflow sensors in order to follow the wind. Our work offers insights into how the same biomechanical and neural substrates enable both behaviors. More broadly, studying the rodent whisker array reveals promising avenues for understanding the neural circuits that drive closed-loop sensorimotor behaviors.

Tuesday July 9th, 14:00-15:00 (2:00-3:00 PM)


Mitra Hartmann received a Bachelor of Science in Applied and Engineering Physics from Cornell University, a PhD in Integrative Neuroscience from the California Institute of Technology, and was a post-doctoral scholar at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the Bio-Inspired Technology and Systems group. She is currently a professor with a 50-50 joint appointment between the Departments of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at Northwestern University. She is the recipient of the Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence award and an elected fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE).

Biological and Bioinspired Magnetic Reception and Multimodal Sensing (Sponsored by the Case Alumni Association)

Brian K. Taylor

Case Western Reserve University

Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) such as the United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS) provide navigation information for applications that underpin society (e.g., international trade and travel, global security). However, satellite-based navigation technologies can become compromised or unavailable for a variety of natural and manmade reasons. These technologies are also expensive to deploy and maintain, and cannot be used in underwater applications. In contrast, a variety of animals migrate across long distances using only their natural born senses. In particular, different species of insect, fish, bird, turtle, and marine mammal use the earth’s magnetic field (i.e., magnetoreception) as an omnipresent sensory cue to aid in navigation and migration across continents and oceans. Despite decades of research, the sensory and processing mechanisms that underpin magnetoreception and its resulting navigation remain enigmatic. This talk will discuss the ongoing efforts of the Wisdom and Knowledge from Animal Navigation, Direction and Action (WAKANDA) Laboratory at Case Western Reserve University to probe animal and animal-inspired magnetoreception and multimodal sensing. To understand how animals sense and use the magnetic field to navigate, and to identify principles that can aid in developing the next generation of engineered navigation systems, WAKANDA uses an interdisciplinary approach that includes robotics, engineering, computational neuroscience, neuroethology, and modeling and simulation. Current laboratory activities include 1) analyzing hypothesized magnetoreception navigation strategies, 2) using computational neuroscience to understand sensory processing and integration, and 3) exploring a range of potential manmade applications for animal magnetoreception and multimodal sensing.

Wednesday July 10th, 9:00-10:00 AM


Dr. Brian K. Taylor is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Case Western Reserve University. Prior to this, he was an Assistant Professor of Biology at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he directed the Quantitative Biology and Engineering Sciences (QBES) Laboratory (now WAKANDA). Prior to his academic appointments, Dr. Taylor was a Civil Service Research Mechanical Engineer with the United States Air Force Research Laboratory. His research uses engineering tools and approaches to better understand biological systems while simultaneously using an understanding of biology to develop the next generation of robust engineered autonomous systems. Dr. Taylor is a triple-alumnus of Case Western Reserve University, holding a BSE (Aerospace Engineering), and a MS and PhD in Mechanical Engineering. Dr. Taylor is also a musician (trumpeter, arranger, and composer), and released an album titled “Spirito Sereno” in 2016.

Supercomputer framework for reverse engineering firing patterns of neuron populations to identify their inputs and properties

C. J. Heckman

Northwestern University

The firing patterns of populations of neurons are routinely measured via array electrodes.  These patterns are generated by the processing of the neurons’ synaptic inputs by their intrinsic electrical properties.  To understand this transformation, we are developing techniques based on supercomputer implementations of neuron models to reverse engineer neuron firing patterns into their inputs and properties.  We focus on spinal motoneurons, whose inputs and properties are well studied in animal preparations and whose population firing patterns can be readily measured in human subjects.  Thus far, we have run >10 million simulations using realistic motoneuron models in response to >500,000 combinations of inputs and properties.  Our results show that, although generic motor output variables like muscle torque can be accurately generated by huge solution spaces (i.e. by a very wide range of inputs and properties), there is much more detail in firing patterns.  Consequently, characteristics of motoneuron firing patterns can be used to estimate their inputs and properties with variances accounted for in the range of 80-90%.  We are now deploying these methods on firing patterns for multiple human muscles in both normal and disease states.  In principle, it seems likely that similar method can be successfully applied in many neural systems.

Wednesday July 10th, 14:00-15:00 (2:00-3:00 PM)


CJ Heckman got his PhD in Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Washington in 1986 and established his lab at Northwestern University in 1990, where he is Professor in the Departments of Neuroscience and of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. The focus of this lab’s research is on spinal motor output, with the goal of understanding how motor output emerges from the cellular properties of populations spinal neurons, in both humans and other animals.

Leveraging Mammalian Motor Control Systems for Soft Robotics (Sponsored by Bioinspiration and Biomimetics)

Ritu Raman

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Human beings and other mammals navigate unpredictable and dynamic environments by combining compliant mechanical actuators (skeletal muscle) with neural control and sensory feedback. Abiotic actuators, by contrast, have yet to match their biological counterparts in their ability to autonomously sense and adapt their form and function to changing environments. We have shown that engineered skeletal muscle actuators, controlled by neuronal networks, can generate force and power functional behaviors such as walking and pumping in a range of untethered robots. These muscle-powered robots are dynamically responsive to mechanical stimuli and are capable of complex functional behaviors like exercise-mediated strengthening and healing in response to damage. Our lab uses engineered bioactuators as a platform to understand neuromuscular architecture and function in physiological and pathological states, restore mobility after disease and damage, and power soft robots. This talk will cover the advantages, challenges, and future directions of understanding and manipulating the mechanics of biological motor control.

Thursday July 11th, 9:00-10:00 AM

Raman, R. Faculty Headshot 1

Ritu Raman, PhD is the d’Arbeloff Career Development Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT. Her lab is centered on engineering adaptive living materials for applications in medicine and machines. Prof. Raman has received several recognitions for scientific innovation, including the NSF CAREER Award, the Army Research Office YIP Award, the Office of Naval Research YIP Award. She has also been named a Kavli Fellow by the National Academy of Sciences, chosen for the MIT Technology Review 35 Innovators Under 35 list, and authored the MIT Press book Biofabrication. She is passionate about increasing diversity in STEM and has championed many initiatives to empower women in science, including being named a AAAS IF/THEN ambassador. Prof. Raman received her BS from Cornell University and her PhD as an NSF Graduate Research Fellow at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She completed her postdoctoral research with Prof. Robert Langer at MIT, funded by a L’Oréal USA For Women in Science Fellowship and a Ford Foundation Fellowship from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Lab Website | Twitter