In 1896, The Pennsylvania State College was formed into seven distinct schools, one of which was the School of Engineering. Today, Penn State Engineering conducts cutting-edge research in many areas and across many disciplines.

Research Areas

Acoustics – Acoustics is a subject touching many diverse disciplines such as architectural acoustics, biomedical ultrasound, noise and vibration control, transducer design, underwater acoustics, signal processing, aeroacoustics, structural vibration, speech and communication, outdoor propagation, computational methods, and much more.

Aerospace Engineering – Established in 1961, the department focuses on aeroacoustics, air-breathing propulsion, astrodynamics, autonomous flight, fluid dynamics, structures and nanomaterials, rotorcraft, space propulsion, vehicle dynamics and systems engineering, and wind energy.

Agricultural & Biological Engineering – This department is Penn State’s home for advancing the engineering, business, and technical management of biological and agricultural systems.

Architectural Engineering – Founded in 1910, the Architectural Engineering program emphasizes the scientific and engineering aspects of planning, designing, and constructing buildings. Research focuses on indoor environmental quality, human health, high-performance building materials, structural systems, building energy solutions, modeling and simulation, automation, and robotics.

A piezoelectric energy harvester transforms mechanical vibrations to electrical energy. (Image: Elizabeth Flores-Gomez Murray/Penn State)

Biomedical Engineering – Research areas include medical device design, instrumentation, medical imaging, healthcare management, biomaterials and drug delivery, biomechanics, and regenerative medicine.

Chemical Engineering – Researchers work to expand the supply of food, energy, and clean water for the global population; develop new materials and pathways to chemical products that are more affordable, sustainable, and environmentally beneficial; enable the use of renewable, sustainable energy for transportation; and protect and improve the environment.

Civil and Environmental Engineering – Focus areas include treatment of surface water, groundwater, wastewater, soil, and air; management of wetlands and watersheds; treatment and disposal of solid and hazardous wastes; production of renewable energy; and design of green products.

School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science – The school was created in 2015 and works to develop electronic and optical materials, devices and sensors, power systems, space systems, computer vision, machine learning, and data science technologies.

School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs – The school solves real-life engineering problems by integrating engineering with design theory, business, psychology, and art.

Engineering Science and Mechanics – Research covers scientific and technological areas such as advanced materials, biomechanics, dynamic systems, manufacturing processes, multiphysics modeling and analysis, nanoengineering, photonics, and optoelectronics.

A thermally modulated battery was developed for mass-market electric vehicles that eliminates range anxiety with unsurpassed safety, low cost, and no cobalt. (Image: Chao-Yang Wang lab, Penn State)

Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering – This department focuses on human factors and ergonomics, human-computer interaction, human-machine systems, and human-centered design.

Mechanical Engineering – Research is performed in thermal/fluid sciences, biomechanics, design and manufacturing, energy systems, sensors and controls, transportation systems, and computational mechanics.

Technologies

Penn Engineering researchers set out to develop technology capable of localizing and imaging blood clots in deep veins; however, their work may not only identify blood clots but also treat them. To better identify the location, composition, and size of clots — which informs how to treat them — the team used a particle approach called nanopeptisomes (NPeps). The particles comprise a shell around a droplet of fluorine-based oil similar to liquid Teflon. The surface of the shell holds a molecule that finds and binds a protein on the surface of activated platelets — a key cellular component of clots.

A team developed wearable, flexible antennas to serve as transmitters. Like wearable sensors, a wearable transmitter needs to be safe for use on human skin, functional at room temperature, and able to withstand twisting, compression, and stretching. The transmitter, which can send wireless data at a range of nearly 300 feet, can easily integrate a number of computer chips or sensors.

The U.S. Army funded work at Penn Engineering to develop additive manufacturing (3D printing) techniques for high-strength steels and alloys. High-strength and high-hardness steels are well suited for and currently used in many defense-relevant applications such as personal armor, armored vehicles, specialized facilities for blast and ballistic protection, and marine ship hulls. The material, however, is difficult to manufacture traditionally. The laser-based directed energy deposition (L-DED) additive manufacturing process, which builds a component layer by layer and fuses them together with a laser, could allow engineers to design more intricate pieces.

A new kind of wearable health device would deliver realtime medical data to those with eye or mouth diseases. The wearable device collects both small and large substances of biofluids, such as tears and saliva, that can be analyzed for certain conditions on a rapid, continuous basis, rather than waiting on test results from samples in a lab. The sensors would be placed near the tear duct or mouth to collect samples that would then produce data viewable on a user’s smartphone or sent to their doctor. This new device also administers medicine with a microneedle through the skin around the eye, mouth, or tongue.

Range anxiety — the fear of running out of power before being able to recharge an electric vehicle — may be a thing of the past. Penn Engineering researchers are looking at lithium iron phosphate batteries that have a range of 250 miles with the ability to charge in 10 minutes. The battery should be good for 2 million miles in its lifetime. The key to long life and rapid recharging is the battery’s ability to quickly heat up to 140 °F for charge and discharge and then cool down when the battery is not working.

Penn State researchers helped develop a dual-mode sensor that functions as electronic skin to measure the dynamic nature of human motion. (Image: Cheng Laboratory/Ye Qiu)

Sensors that monitor a patient’s condition during and after medical procedures can be expensive, uncomfortable, and even dangerous. Researchers have designed a highly sensitive flexible gas sensor that can be implanted in the body and after it’s no longer needed, safely biodegrade into materials that are absorbed by the body. Current devices used outside of the body to monitor gas levels are bulky and potentially not as accurate as an implantable device. Implantable devices, however, need to be removed, which could mean another operation. The new sensor is made of materials that dissolve at a slow enough pace that would allow the sensors to function in the body during a patient’s recovery period.

Electronic skin sensors were developed that mimic the dynamic process of human motion. This work could help severely injured people, such as soldiers, regain the ability to control their movements as well as contribute to the development of smart robotics. The dual-mode sensor measures both the magnitude and load of movement, such as the effort of swinging a tennis racquet, as well as rate, duration, and direction.

A new mechanism harvests stray magnetic fields and converts the energy into enough electricity to power next-generation sensor networks for smart buildings and factories. (Image: Kai Wang)

Plagues of locusts containing millions of insects fly across the sky but the individual insects do not collide with each other within these massive swarms. Penn engineers created a low-power collision detector that mimics the locust avoidance response and could help robots, drones, and even self-driving cars avoid collisions. Locusts move at two to three miles per hour and make directional changes in hundreds of milliseconds. This quick reaction and modest energy use are attractive for mechanized collision detectors. The researchers’ collision detector responds in two seconds.

A lithium-ion battery that is safe, has high power, and can last for 1 million miles was developed by Penn Engineering. (Image: Jennifer McCann/Penn State)

Repeated activity wears on soft robotic actuators but these machines’ moving parts need to be reliable and easily fixed. Researchers developed a biosynthetic polymer, patterned after squid ring teeth, that is self-healing and biodegradable, creating a material not only good for actuators but also for hazmat suits and other applications where tiny holes could cause a danger. The high-strength synthetic proteins mimic those found in nature and like the creatures they are patterned on, the proteins can self-heal both minute and visible damage. The self-healing polymer heals with the application of water and heat, although it could also heal using light.

Technology Transfer

The Office of Industrial Partnerships (OIP) fosters strategic relationships with industry partners and supports Penn State’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, accelerating the pace at which technologies move from discovery to implementation. Contact the OIP at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; 814-867-6328 or visit here .

The Intellectual Property Navigator is a searchable showcase of Penn State’s top emerging technologies available for licensing. Get started here .


Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the September, 2021 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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