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Alumni Magazine

MAE postdoc wins first-place prize in annual research image contest

Illustration of caterpillar-like soft robot.

Shuang Wu, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE), won a first-place prize in the graphics and data visualization category of NC State’s annual Envisioning Research contest.

His illustration, “Caterpillar Inspired Soft Crawling Robot,” depicts a caterpillar-like soft robot that can move forward, backward and dip under narrow spaces. It was featured in a paper published in March 2023 in Science Advances, of which Wu is first author. Yong Zhu, the Andrew A. Adams Distinguished Professor of MAE, is a corresponding author.

The researchers drew inspiration from a caterpillar’s biomechanics to mimic its local curvature in the robot. Caterpillars curve their bodies differently when they pull themselves forward than when they push backward.

The caterpillar-bot’s movement is driven by a novel pattern of silver nanowires that use heat to control the way the robot bends, allowing users to steer the robot in either direction. It is made of two layers of polymer. The bottom layer contracts when exposed to heat, while the top layer expands. The silver nanowires are embedded in the top layer, and multiple lead points within the pattern provide spots where researchers can apply an electric current to generate movement.