Research Teams Awarded $15M to Design Materials Inspired by Deep Sea Fish and to Explore Attention Control

Two teams from Georgia Tech have been awarded a combined $15 million from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) for basic research projects as part of the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program.

April 11, 2023

Two teams from Georgia Tech have been awarded a combined $15 million from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) for basic research projects as part of the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program. MURI seeks to fund research teams with creative and diverse solutions to complex problems and is a major part of the DoD’s research portfolio.

Alper Erturk (Lead PI), Carl Ring Family Chair and professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, and Yuhang Hu, associate professor and Woodruff Faculty Fellow in the Woodruff School and the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, were awarded $7.5 million for their project, BioInspired Material Architectures for Deep Sea (BIMADS). Randall Engle, professor in the School of Psychology, was awarded the same amount for his project titled Understanding and Building Overall Cognitive Capability Through Attention Control.

Erturk and Hu’s interdisciplinary project will explore the fundamental science behind the biological characteristics that allow deep sea fish to adapt and survive in high pressure ocean environments. They will then translate those findings to engineer bioinspired materials needed to realize the Navy’s advanced capabilities in deep sea environments.

“In the deep ocean, marine organisms have evolved to thrive in high pressure environments, and adapt to pressure changes while remaining functional,” Erturk said. “Our goal for this project is to discover, test, and translate biological mechanisms into synthetic materials and structures that can dynamically adapt to high pressures in the ocean.”

Specifically, the researchers will test and explore the origins of the biological mechanisms (both molecular and macroscopic) that underlie the ability for deep sea snailfish to adapt to high pressures, pressure changes, and pressure differentials across material interfaces. Using findings from the biological studies, the researchers will design synthetic materials and structures that will then be evaluated in high pressure chambers.

“Knowledge gained from these studies will provide insight toward the design of structures spanning from atmospheric dive suits to robotic fish for the deep ocean,” Hu said.

BIMADS brings together experts in marine biology, bioengineering, biomimetic materials, chemistry, mechanochemistry and multiphysics chemomechanical modeling, hydrogel synthesis, biohybrid material fabrication, and the design, mechanics, and dynamics of architected structures. In addition to Erturk and Hu, the team also includes Anna Balazs and Lance Davidson from the University of Pittsburgh, John Costello from Providence College, Shashank Priya from the University of Minnesota, and Andrew Sarles from the University of Tennessee.

Attention Control in Naval Training

Engle’s project will explore the brain’s mechanisms of attention control and investigate methods to potentially improve it or reduce its decline.

“We want to better understand the role that controlling attention and individual differences in that ability has in real-world, complex tasks such as flying a plane, driving a car, or even studying for a physics test,” Engle said. “We expect this work will help the Navy identify job trainees who are best able to attend to complex tasks, and also help to mitigate the effects of fatigue and mind wandering common to those tasks.”

According to Engle, the Navy trains about a thousand air traffic control professionals each year and spends over $100,000 per candidate. But nearly a quarter of candidates fail training, leading to significant financial waste.

Engle’s work with air traffic control trainees showed that current evaluations used to select candidates for training only predicts a small percentage of success. Engle found that, by using his measures of ability to control attention in evaluations, the Navy could more than double predictive success in candidate training. In addition, researchers found that Engle’s measures appeared to have less adverse impact and bias against women and minority candidates.

Engle’s collaborative research team includes researchers from MIT, the University of Chicago, Purdue University, and Michigan State University. Each team member is studying a different aspect of attention control.

For More Information Contact

Catherine Barzler, Senior Research Writer/Editor