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Learning how to walk is difficult for toddlers to master; it’s even harder for adults who are recovering from a stroke, traumatic brain injury, or other condition, requiring months of intensive, often frustrating physical therapy. With the recent boom of the robotic exoskeleton industry, more and more patients are being strapped into machines that apply forces to their legs as they walk, gently prodding them to modify their movements by lengthening their strides, straightening their hips, and bending their knees. But, are all patients benefiting from this kind of treatment? A group of scientists led by Paolo Bonato, Ph.D., Associate Faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and Director of the Motion Analysis Laboratory at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, has discovered a crucial caveat for rehabilitative exoskeletons: humans whose lower limbs are fastened to a typical clinical robot only modify their gait if the forces the robot applies threaten their walking stability.

In a study published in the newest issue of Science Robotics, the researchers measured how test subjects’ gait changed in response to forces applied by a robotic exoskeleton as they walked on a treadmill. To the team’s surprise, the walkers adjusted their stride in response to a change in the length, but not the height, of their step, even when step height and length were disturbed at the same time. The scientists believe that this discrepancy can be explained by the central nervous system (CNS)’s primary reliance on stability when determining how to adjust to a disruption in normal walking. “Lifting your foot higher mid-stride doesn’t really make you that much less stable, whereas placing your foot closer or further away from your center of mass can really throw off your balance, so the body adjusts much more readily to that disturbance,” says Giacomo Severini, Ph.D., one of the three first authors of the paper, who is now an Assistant Professor at University College Dublin.

In fact, the brain is so willing to adapt to instability that it will expend a significant amount of the body’s energy to do so, most likely because the consequences of wobbly walking can be severe: a broken ankle, torn ligaments, or even a fall from a height. However, this prioritization of stability means that other aspects of walking, like the height of the foot off the ground or the angle of the toes, may require treatment beyond walking in a clinical exoskeleton. “To modify step height, for example, you’d need to design forces so that the change in height, which the brain normally interprets as neutral, becomes challenging to the patient’s balance,” says Severini. Most robots used in clinical settings today do not allow for that kind of customization.

The brain appears to create an internal model of the body’s movement based on the environment and its normal gait, and effectively predicts each step. When reality differs from that model (i.e., when a force is applied), the brain adjusts the body’s step length accordingly to compensate until the force is removed and the body recalibrates to the mental model. “The results of our study give us insight into the way people adapt to external forces while walking in general, which is useful for clinicians when evaluating whether their patients will respond to clinical robot interventions,” says Bonato, who is also an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School (HMS).

“The results of this research are very important from a clinical point of view,” agrees Ross Zafonte, D.O., Chairperson of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at HMS and Senior Vice President of Medical Affairs Research and Education at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. “It is thanks to advances in our understanding of the interactions between robots and patients, such as the ones investigated in this study, that we can design effective robot-assisted gait therapy.”

“As the human population ages, robotics is playing an increasing role in their care and treatment,” says Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., Founding Director of the Wyss Institute, who is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at HMS and Boston Children’s Hospital, and Professor of Bioengineering at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). “Studying how the human body interacts with robots can not only teach us how to build better clinical rehabilitation machines, but also how our own human bodies work.”

The study was co-authored by two of Severini’s colleagues in the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at HMS: Iahn Cajigas, M.D., Ph. D., who is now a Neurological Surgery resident at the University of Miami, and Alexander Koenig, Ph.D., who is now the CEO of ReActive Robotics. Maurice Smith, M.D., Ph.D., the Gordon McKay Professor of Bioengineering at SEAS, also co-supervised the research.

Traditional robots are made of components and rigid materials like you might see on an automotive assembly line – metal and hydraulic parts, harshly rigid, and extremely strong. But away from the assembly line, for robots to harmoniously assist humans in close–range tasks scientists are designing new classes of soft–bodied robots. Yet one of the challenges is integrating soft materials with requisite rigid components that power and control the robot's body. At the interface of these materials, stresses concentrate and structural integrity can be compromised, which often results in mechanical failure.

But now, by understanding how organisms solve this problem by assembling their bodies in a way that produces a gradual transitioning from hard to soft parts, a team of Wyss Institute researchers and their collaborators have been able to use a novel 3d printing strategy to construct entire robots in a single build that incorporate this biodesign principle. The strategy permits construction of highly complex and robust structures that can't be achieved using conventional nuts and bolts manufacturing. A proof–of–concept soft–bodied autonomous jumping robot prototype was 3D printed layer upon layer to ease the transition from its rigid core components to a soft outer exterior using a series of nine sequential material gradients.

"We leveraged additive manufacturing to holistically create, in one uninterrupted 3D printing session, a single body fabricated with nine sequential layers of material, increasing in stiffness from rigid to soft towards the outer body,” said the study's co–senior author Robert Wood, Ph.D, who is a Core Faculty member and co–leader of the Bioinspired Robotics Platform at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, the Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and Founder of the Harvard Microrobotics Lab. 'By employing a gradient material strategy, we have greatly reduced stress concentrations typically found at the interfaces of soft and rigid components which has resulted in an extremely durable robot."

With the expertise of study co–author and Wyss Institute Senior Research Scientist James Weaver, Ph.D., who is a leader in high–resolution, multi–material 3D printing, the team was able to 3D print the jumping robot's body in one single 3D printing session. Usually, 3D printing is only used to fabricate parts of robots, and is only very recently being used to print entire functional robots. And this jumping robot is the first entire robot to ever be 3D printed using a gradient rigid–to–soft layering strategy.

The autonomous robot is powered – without the use of wires or tethers – by an explosive actuator on its body that harnesses the combustion energy of butane and oxygen. It utilizes three tilting pneumatic legs to control the direction of its jumps, and its soft, squishy exterior reduces the risk of damage upon landings, makes it safer for humans to operate in close proximity, and increases the robot's overall lifespan. It was developed based on previous combustion–based robots designed by co–senior author George Whitesides, Ph.D., who is a Wyss Institute Core Faculty member and the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor at Harvard University.

"Traditional molding–based manufacturing would be impractical to achieve a functionally–graded robot, you would need a new mold every time you change the robot’s design. 3D printing manufacturing is ideal for fabricating the complex and layered body exhibited by our jumping robot," said Nicholas Bartlett, a co–first author on the study and a graduate researcher in bioinspired robotics at the Wyss Institute and Harvard SEAS.

As compared to traditional mold manufacturing, which uses fixed molds, the nature of 3D printing facilitates rapid design iterations with utmost ease, allowing faster prototyping throughout development.

"This new breakthrough demonstrates the power of combining insights into nature's innovations with the most advanced man–made technological advances – in this case 3D printing technologies – when trying to overcome technical limitations that currently hold back a field," said Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., who is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital and Professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "This ability to fabricate unitary soft robots composed of gradient materials that emulate natural stiffness gradients of living structures paves the way for mass fabrication of robots that can integrate seamlessly with people, whether in our homes, at work or in operating rooms in the future."

Former Wyss Institute Postdoctoral Fellow Michael Tolley, Ph.D., currently Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering of University of California, San Diego, is a co–first author on the study. In addition, former Wyss Institute and Harvard SEAS Postdoctoral Fellow Bobak Mosadegh, Ph.D., currently Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering in Radiology at Weill Cornell Medical College, is a co–author; Johannes T.B. Overvelde, a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard SEAS, is a co–author; and Katia Bertoldi, Ph.D., who is the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of Natural Sciences at Harvard SEAS, is a co–senior author.

This research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. Images provided by Wyss Institute at Harvard University.

The Wyss Institute's human organs-on-chips, represented by the human lung, gut and liver chips, have won the 2015 Designs of the Year Awards prize in the best Product design category. The annual awards and museum exhibition by the Design Museum in London recognizes the most innovative, high–impact, and forward–thinking designs from across the world.

"This year's judges were united in their responsibility to award projects that emphasize design's impact on our lives now and in the future. Solving diverse problems with innovation, intelligence and wit, each of these six designs is a worthy winner," said Gemma Curtin, Curator of Designs of the Year, speaking about the six prize winners representing Product, Architecture, Fashion, Transport, Digital and Graphics design.

Currently in its eighth year, the 2015 Designs of the Year Awards & Exhibition features 76 total nominees across six categories, chosen by the world's top design experts, practitioners, curators and academics. This year's awards will climax next month, in June, when an overall Design of the Year prize will be bestowed upon one of the six selected finalists.

To clinch the Product prize, the Wyss' human organs–on–chips competed against 22 other product designs, including: QardioArm, a discreet personal heart monitor; Project Daniel, a lab that braves hostile war conditions to 3D–print prosthetic arms for children in Sudan; Dragonfly, an asymmetric chair inspired by insects; a DIY gamer kit, which can be a technology learning aid for children; CurrentTable, a table that photosynthesizes electricity; and an air–purifying billboard that turns pollution into clean air.

"As a scientist whose work has been influenced and inspired by art and design from the very beginning of my career, I am greatly honored that organs–on–chips have won this year's Product prize for design," said Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald E. Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., who invented human organs–on–chips alongside Dan Dongeun Huh, Ph.D., who was a Wyss Technology Development Fellow at the time of its invention. "We are thrilled to know that an international forum of experts who are passionate about the power of design appreciate both the elegance and potential impact of our living organs–on–chips microdevices."

The initial human organ-on-a-chip, designed at the Wyss Institute in 2010 by Ingber and Huh, has since been leveraged for the design of several additional human organs-on-chips. These microdevices have the potential ability to deliver transformative change to human health and pharmaceutical care due to the accuracy with which they emulate human organ-level functions. They stand to significantly reduce the need for animal testing by providing a faster, less expensive, less controversial and much more accurate means to predict whether new drug compounds will be successful in human clinical trials. In 2014, the startup company Emulate, Inc., sprang out of the Wyss Institute in order to commercialize human organs-on-chips.

"With drug development costs running into billions of pounds, this entry really caught the imagination of all the judges. It's an intriguing and exciting prospect that has the potential to reduce animal testing, and at the same time speed up development of new drugs," said member of the award jury Richard Woolley, who is Studio Director at Land Rover Design Research & Special Vehicle Operations.

Human organs-on-chips are built using an innovative microfabrication process adapted from the computer chip industry, in which multi-layer photolithography is used to manufacture memory-stick-sized blocks of crystal-clear, flexible rubber that contain hollow microchannels. These microchannels are then lined with living organ cells and blood capillary cells under fluid flow and manipulated mechanically using vacuum-powered movements to replicate organ movements.

The human organs-on-chips and 75 other overall nominees are currently on display in the Designs of the Year Awards Exhibition at the Design Museum in London, which will remain open until August 2015.

Researchers at Harvard's Wyss Institute have developed a method to carry out large-scale manufacturing of everyday objects — from cell phones to food containers and toys — using a fully degradable bioplastic isolated from shrimp shells. The objects exhibit many of the same properties as those created with synthetic plastics, but without the environmental threat. It also trumps most bioplastics on the market today in posing absolutely no threat to trees or competition with the food supply.

Most bioplastics are made from cellulose, a plant-based polysaccharide material. The Wyss Institute team developed its bioplastic from chitosan, a form of chitin, which is a powerful player in the world of natural polymers and the second most abundant organic material on Earth. Chitin is a long-chain polysaccharide that is responsible for the hardy shells of shrimps and other crustaceans, armor-like insect cuticles, tough fungal cell walls — and flexible butterfly wings.

The majority of available chitin in the world comes from discarded shrimp shells, and is either thrown away or used in fertilizers, cosmetics, or dietary supplements, for example. However, material engineers have not been able to fabricate complex three-dimensional (3D) shapes using chitin-based materials — until now.

The Wyss Institute team, led by Postdoctoral Fellow Javier Fernandez, Ph.D., and Founding Director Don Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., developed a new way to process the material so that it can be used to fabricate large, 3D objects with complex shapes using traditional casting or injection molding manufacturing techniques. What's more, their chitosan bioplastic breaks down when returned to the environment within about two weeks, and it releases rich nutrients that efficiently support plant growth.

"There is an urgent need in many industries for sustainable materials that can be mass produced," Ingber said. Ingber is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and Professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "Our scalable manufacturing method shows that chitosan, which is readily available and inexpensive, can serve as a viable bioplastic that could potentially be used instead of conventional plastics for numerous industrial applications."

The advance reflects the next iteration of a material called Shrilk that replicated the appearance and unique material properties of living insect cuticle, which the same team unveiled about two years ago in Advanced Materials. They called it Shrilk because it was composed of chitin from shrimp shells plus a protein from silk.

In this study, the team used the shrimp shells but ditched the silk in their quest to create an even cheaper, easier-to-make chitin-based bioplastic primed for widespread manufacturing.

It turns out the small stuff really mattered, Fernandez said. After subjecting chitosan to a battery of tests, he learned that the molecular geometry of chitosan is very sensitive to the method used to formulate it. The goal, therefore, was to fabricate the chitosan in a way that preserves the integrity of its natural molecular structure, thus maintaining its strong mechanical properties.

"Depending on the fabrication method, you either get a chitosan material that is brittle and opaque, and therefore not usable, or tough and transparent, which is what we were after," said Fernandez, who recently won the Bayer "Early Excellence in Science" Award for his achievements in materials science and engineering.

After fully characterizing in detail how factors like temperature and concentration affect the mechanical properties of chitosan on a molecular level, Fernandez and Ingber honed in on a method that produced a pliable liquid crystal material that was just right for use in large-scale manufacturing methods, such as casting and injection molding.

Significantly, they also found a way to combat the problem of shrinkage whereby the chitosan polymer fails to maintain its original shape after the injection molding process. Adding wood flour, a waste product from wood processing, did the trick.

"You can make virtually any 3D form with impressive precision from this type of chitosan," said Fernandez, who molded a series of chess pieces to illustrate the point. The material can also be modified for use in water and also easily dyed by changing the acidity of the chitosan solution.

This advance validates the potential of using bioinspired plastics for applications that require large-scale manufacturing, Fernandez explained. The next challenge is for the team to continue to refine their chitosan fabrication methods so that they can take them out of the laboratory, and move them into a commercial manufacturing facility with an industrial partner.

For more information, visit: wyss.harvard.edu

The World Technology Network (WTN) announced that both the Wyss Institute and Wyss Founding Director Don Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., won awards in the biotechnology category. The awards honor the world's most significant innovators in science and technology who are "creating the 21st century" -- and the Wyss Institute made an impressive showing, having won in two separate categories: one for an organization, and one for an individual.

The awards were announced during a black-tie ceremony at the Time & Life Building in New York City by the WTN in association with TIME, Fortune, CNN, Science/AAAS, and Technology Review. The theme of the event was "Nothing Will Ever Be the Same Again" -- a nod to the groundbreaking work being undertaken by the nominees, who were selected by the winners and finalists from previous awards through an intensive, global process lasting many months.

Last year, Wyss Core Faculty member James J. Collins, Ph.D., won the WTN award in the biotechnology category in recognition of his work in synthetic biology and antibiotic drug discovery.

In total, there were 50 corporate Finalists (in 10 categories) and 100 individual Finalists (in 20 categories). The nominees and winners become part of a global community of people that has been growing since 2000 who "help create our collective future and change our world," says James Clark, founder and chairman of the WTN.

In addition to being the Wyss Institute's founding director, Ingber is the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and in the Vascular Biology Program at Boston Children's Hospital and Professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He also leads the Biomimetic Microsystems Platform at the Wyss Institute. Collins also holds the William F. Warren Distinguished Professorship at Boston University, where he is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator as well as the co-director and co-founder of the Center for BioDynamics. Collins also leads the Anticipatory Medical & Biomolecular Devices Platform at the Wyss Institute.

For more information, visit: wtn.net/summit2012/winners.php

Wednesday, 01 August 2012 11:10

Adding a '3D print' Button to Animation Software

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A group of graphics experts led by computer scientists at Harvard have created an add-on software tool that translates video game characters—or any other three-dimensional animations—into fully articulated action figures, with the help of a 3D printer.

The project is described in detail in the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Transactions on Graphics and will be presented at the ACM SIGGRAPH conference on August 7.

Besides its obvious consumer appeal, the tool constitutes a remarkable piece of code and an unusual conceptual exploration of the virtual and physical worlds.

"In animation you're not necessarily trying to model the physical world perfectly; the model only has to be good enough to convince your eye," explains lead author Moritz Bächer, a graduate student in computer science at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). "In a virtual world, you have all this freedom that you don't have in the physical world. You can make a character so anatomically skewed that it would never be able to stand up in real life, and you can make deformations that aren't physically possible. You could even have a head that isn't attached to its body, or legs that occasionally intersect each other instead of colliding."

Returning a virtual character to the physical world therefore turns the traditional animation process on its head, in a sort of reverse rendering, as the image that's on the screen must be adapted to accommodate real-world constraints.

Bächer and his coauthors demonstrated their new method using characters from Spore, an evolution-simulation video game. Spore allows players to create a vast range of creatures with numerous limbs, eyes, and body segments in almost any configuration, using a technique called procedural animation to quickly and automatically animate whatever body plan it receives.

As with most types of computer animation, the characters themselves are just "skins"—meshes of polygons—that are manipulated like marionettes by an invisible skeleton.

"As an animator, you can move the skeletons and create weight relationships with the surface points," says Bächer, "but the skeletons inside are non-physical with zero-dimensional joints; they're not useful to our fabrication process at all. In fact, the skeleton frequently protrudes outside the body entirely."

Bächer tackled the fabrication problem with his Ph.D. adviser, Hanspeter Pfister, Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science at SEAS. They were joined by Bernd Bickel and Doug James at the Technische Universität Berlin and Cornell University, respectively.

This team of computer graphics experts developed a software tool that achieves two things: it identifies the ideal locations for the action figure's joints, based on the character's virtual articulation behavior, and then it optimizes the size and location of those joints for the physical world. For instance, a spindly arm might be too thin to hold a robust joint, and the joints in a curving spine might collide with each other if they are too close.

The software uses a series of optimization techniques to generate the best possible model, incorporating both hinges and ball-and-socket joints. It also builds some friction into these surfaces so that the printed figure will be able to hold its poses.

The tool also perfects the model's skin texture. Procedurally animated characters tend to have a very roughly defined, low-resolution skin to enable rendering in real time. Details and textures are typically added through a type of virtual optical illusion: manipulating the normals that determine how light reflects off the surface. In order to have these details show up in the 3D print, the software analyzes that map of normals and translates it into a realistic surface texture.

Then the 3D printer sets to work, and out comes a fully assembled, robust, articulated action figure, bringing the virtual world to life.

"With an animation, you always have to view it on a two-dimensional screen, but this allows you to just print it and take an actual look at it in 3D," says Bächer. "I think that’s helpful to the artists and animators, to see how it actually feels in reality and get some feedback. Right now, perhaps they can print a static scene, just a character in one stance, but they can’t see how it really moves. If you print one of these articulated figures, you can experiment with different stances and movements in a natural way, as with an artist’s mannequin."

Bächer's model does not allow deformations beyond the joints, so squishy, stretchable bodies are not yet captured in this process. But that type of printed character might be possible by incorporating other existing techniques.

For instance, in 2010, Pfister, Bächer, and Bickel were part of a group of researchers who replicated an entire flip-flop sandal using a multi-material 3D printer. The printed sandal mimicked the elasticity of the original foam rubber and cloth. With some more development, a later iteration of the "3D-print button" could include this capability.

"Perhaps in the future someone will invent a 3D printer that prints the body and the electronics in one piece," Bächer muses. "Then you could create the complete animated character at the push of a button and have it run around on your desk."

Harvard’s Office of Technology Development has filed a patent application and is working with the Pfister Lab to commercialize the new technology by licensing it to an existing company or by forming a start-up. Their near-term areas of interest include cloud-based services for creating highly customized, user-generated products, such as toys, and enhancing existing animation and 3D printer software with these capabilities.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, Pixar, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

For more information, visit: seas.harvard.edu

The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University today announced that it has received a $2.6 million contract (including option) from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a smart suit that helps improve physical endurance for soldiers in the field. The novel wearable system would potentially delay the onset of fatigue, enabling soldiers to walk longer distances, and also potentially improve the body’s resistance to injuries when carrying heavy loads.

Lightweight, efficient, and nonrestrictive, the proposed suit will be made from soft wearable assistive devices that integrate several novel Wyss technologies. One is a stretchable sensor that would monitor the body’s biomechanics without the need for the typical rigid components that often interfere with motion. The system could potentially detect the onset of fatigue. Additionally, one of the technologies in the suit may help the wearer maintain balance by providing low-level mechanical vibrations that boost the body’s sensory functions.

The new smart suit will be designed to overcome several of the problems typically associated with current wearable systems, including their large power requirements and rigid overall structures, which restrict normal movement and can be uncomfortable.

While the DARPA project is focused on assisting and protecting soldiers in the field, the technologies being developed could have many other applications as well. For instance, similar soft-wearable devices hold the potential to increase endurance in the elderly and help improve mobility for people with physical disabilities.

Wyss Core Faculty member Conor Walsh, Ph.D., will lead this interdisciplinary program, which will include collaborations with Core Faculty member Rob Wood, Ph.D., and Wyss Technology Development Fellow Yong-Lae Park, Ph.D., for developing soft sensor technologies, and with Core Faculty member George Whitesides, Ph.D, for developing novel soft interfaces between the device and the wearer. Wood is also the Gordon McKay Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Whitesides is also the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor at Harvard. Sang-bae Kim, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Ken Holt, PT, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Boston University’s College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, will also play key roles on the project.

Also working on the project will be several members of Wyss’ Advanced Technology Team who will provide expertise in product development to ensure the rapid completion of prototypes. They will oversee the testing of prototypes in the Wyss Institute’s biomechanics lab, using motion capture capabilities that can measure the impact of the suit on specific muscles and joints.

"This project is a excellent example of how Wyss researchers from different disciplines work side by side with experts in product development to develop solutions to difficult problems that might not otherwise be possible," said Wyss Founding Director Donald Ingber, MD, Ph.D.

For more information, visit: wyss.harvard.edu

Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have developed a new material that replicates the exceptional strength, toughness, and versatility of one of nature's more extraordinary substances -- insect cuticle. Also low-cost, biodegradable, and biocompatible, the new material, called "Shrilk," could one day replace plastics in consumer products and be used safely in a variety of medical applications.

The research findings appear today in the online issue of Advanced Materials. The work was conducted by Wyss Institute postdoctoral fellow, Javier G. Fernandez, Ph.D., with Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D. Ingber is the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital Boston and is a Professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Natural insect cuticle, such as that found in the rigid exoskeleton of a housefly or grasshopper, is uniquely suited to the challenge of providing protection without adding weight or bulk. As such, it can deflect external chemical and physical strains without damaging the insect's internal components, while providing structure for the insect's muscles and wings. It is so light that it doesn't inhibit flight and so thin that it allows flexibility. Also remarkable is its ability to vary its properties, from rigid along the insect's body segments and wings to elastic along its limb joints.

Insect cuticle is a composite material consisting of layers of chitin, a polysaccharide polymer, and protein organized in a laminar, plywood-like structure. Mechanical and chemical interactions between these materials provide the cuticle with its unique mechanical and chemical properties. By studying these complex interactions and recreating this unique chemistry and laminar design in the lab, Fernandez and Ingber were able to engineer a thin, clear film that has the same composition and structure as insect cuticle. The material is called Shrilk because it is composed of fibroin protein from silk and from chitin, which is commonly extracted from discarded shrimp shells.

Shrilk is similar in strength and toughness to an aluminum alloy, but it is only half the weight. It is biodegradable and can be produced at a very low cost, since chitin is readily available as a shrimp waste product. It is also easily molded into complex shapes, such as tubes. By controlling the water content in the fabrication process, the researchers were even able to reproduce the wide variations in stiffness, from elasticity to rigidity.

These attributes could have multiple applications. As a cheap, environmentally safe alternative to plastic, Shrilk could be used to make trash bags, packaging, and diapers that degrade quickly. As an exceptionally strong, biocompatible material, it could be used to suture wounds that bear high loads, such as in hernia repair, or as a scaffold for tissue regeneration.

"When we talk about the Wyss Institute's mission to create bioinspired materials and products, Shrilk is an example of what we have in mind," said Ingber. "It has the potential to be both a solution to some of today's most critical environmental problems and a stepping stone toward significant medical advances."

The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University uses Nature's design principles to develop bioinspired materials and devices that will transform medicine and create a more sustainable world. Working as an alliance among Harvard's Schools of Medicine, Engineering, and Arts & Sciences, and in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Children's Hospital Boston, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, and Boston University, the Institute crosses disciplinary and institutional barriers to engage in high-risk research that leads to transformative technological breakthroughs. By emulating Nature's principles for self-organizing and self-regulating, Wyss researchers are developing innovative new engineering solutions for healthcare, energy, architecture, robotics, and manufacturing. These technologies are translated into commercial products and therapies through collaborations with clinical investigators, corporate alliances, and new start-ups.

For more information, visit: wyss.harvard.edu

Harvard Business School's (HBS) Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship today announced the Minimum Viable Product Fund (MVP Fund), which will offer $50,000 in total awards to student entrepreneurs over the winter semester.

Proposed by first-year MBA students Dan Rumennik, Jess Bloomgarden, and Andrew Rosenthal, and funded by the Rock Center, the MVP Fund is based on the premise of the Lean Startup methodology, which focuses on rapid prototyping, a process that brings products to market as quickly as possible. This methodology was developed by Eric Ries, an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at HBS this academic year advising students and collaborating with faculty members on research and course development.

"For entrepreneurially-minded students at HBS, this fund alleviates the financial barrier preventing them from building initial prototypes or test products. This is the greatest challenge for people with an idea but no money," said Rumennik. "It also encourages students to start businesses while in school and to connect with more of their peers who want to do so as well. Finally, it's a great opportunity for students to get experience managing a product as they go about the process of creating a business."

The Rock Center aims to give $5,000 awards to each of ten teams. Teams may request more or less funding, but awards will not be greater than $10,000. Funded teams will be required to meet with a faculty mentor on a monthly basis, attend a monthly gathering of other MVP teams, and present lessons learned from the MVP program and process at the end of the semester.

"Interest in entrepreneurship pervades the HBS campus," said Tom Eisenmann, the William J. Abernathy Professor of Business Administration in the School's Entrepreneurial Management Unit. "Our MBA students are presenting us with a steady flow of innovative ideas, and we hope the MVP Fund will enable them to further develop their concepts from an idea into an actual product."

Some 50 percent of Harvard Business School alumni describe themselves as entrepreneurs 10 to 15 years after they graduate. Among the many HBS graduates who have founded successful business ventures are Marla Malcolm Beck (MBA 1998), founder of bluemercury; Michael Bloomberg (MBA 1963), founder of Bloomberg L.P.; Marc C. Cenedella (MBA 1998), founder, president, and CEO of TheLadders.com; Scott Cook (MBA 1976), chairman and cofounder of Intuit; Rajil Kapoor (MBA 1996), cofounder and former chairman and CEO of Snapfish; Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilson (both MBA 2004), cofounders of Gilt Groupe; Christopher Michel (MBA 1998), founder of Military.com; Tom Stemberg (MBA 1973), founder of Staples; and Jeremy Stoppelman (MBA 2005), CEO and cofounder of Yelp.

About The Rock Center:
The Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship was created through the generosity of prominent venture capitalist Arthur Rock (MBA '51), who donated $25 million to Harvard Business School to support the entrepreneurship faculty and their research, fellowships for MBA and doctoral students, symposia and conferences, and outreach efforts to extend the impact of the School's extensive work in this field. HBS offered the country's first business school course in entrepreneurship in 1947 and, today, entrepreneurship is one of the largest faculty units at the School, with over 30 faculty members conducting entrepreneurship research and teaching. The Rock Center works closely with the HBS California Research Center in Silicon Valley on entrepreneurship-related research and course development efforts.

About Harvard Business School:
Founded in 1908 as part of Harvard University, Harvard Business School is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston. Its faculty of more than 200 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and doctoral degrees, as well as more than 75 open enrollment Executive Education programs and more than 60 custom programs. For more than a century, HBS faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching to educate leaders who have shaped the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.

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