Press Release

2022 Discovery Awards Fund Johns Hopkins APL Projects in Robotics Sensors, Public Health and Food Systems

Four research teams featuring investigators from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, have been awarded 2022 Johns Hopkins Discovery Awards. One principal investigator and six project contributors are among the 105 individuals from 35 teams selected to receive awards of up to $100,000.

The Discovery Awards program was launched in 2015 to encourage cross-university collaborations that promise to result in high-quality and impactful work. Teams must be composed of members from at least two schools or affiliates of the university. The winning project teams, chosen by faculty members from 199 proposals, feature individuals representing 12 Johns Hopkins entities.

Improving Tactile Sensors for Robotics

Two researchers from the Laboratory’s Research and Exploratory Development Department (REDD) — Luke Osborn, a neuroengineer, and Korine Ohiri, a senior research engineer — are working with Jeremy Brown of the Whiting School of Engineering (WSE) on a project that aims to embed multilayered tactile sensors to enhance robotic systems.

“Our goal for this project is to explore ways in which we can create flexible touch sensors that can be placed directly onto surfaces, such as the fingertips of a robotic hand, to improve how a robot behaves,” said Osborn, the principal investigator. “By combining APL’s knowledge and previous work on multilayered touch sensors with expertise from WSE, we will be able to expand our work and impact by testing our new sensor designs for use with actual robot or prosthesis grasping applications.”

Pioneering Medical Devices

The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine is teaming up with APL to continue to push the boundaries of medical innovation on two winning projects funded by the Discovery Awards. The first is development of a nanostructured, drug-eluting stent to enhance natural outflow pathways in glaucoma treatment. Steven Storck, a mechanical engineer in REDD, will work with Ian Pitha and Kunal Parikh from the School of Medicine on the project.

“We hope to successfully 3D print these stents, because the material they’re currently made out of is incredibly difficult to work with,” shared Storck. “We’ve also been working with APL’s Space Exploration Sector to 3D print objects made out of nitinol, a shape memory alloy, for their needs, and now we’re taking those same methods and shrinking them so they’re applicable for the medical campus’ needs. Once we iron out the production elements, we can move into the added element of drug elution, and even dissolvable stents in the future.”

The second medically focused project is development of a wearable ultrasound transducer that would continuously monitor venous blood flow. The device could help predict and detect deep vein thrombosis (DVT). “The CDC estimates there are over 900,000 cases and approximately 100,000 deaths caused by DVT per year. Our team is looking to develop a hands-free patch that can allow for long-term continuous monitoring of patients. If successful, the device could improve the standard of care for millions of people,” said George Coles, a medical-device researcher in REDD and APL Master Inventor. Coles is working with Aliaksei Pustavoitau and Amir Manbachi from the School of Medicine on the research.

Food Systems Security Analysis for Decision-Making

Food systems describe the interconnected actors and relationships along the food chain that culminate in the consumption and disposal of food in communities around the world. APL researchers Jason Lee and Hans Mair are joining Jessica Fanzo from the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and Rebecca McLaren, also from Berman, to research how components of the system interact with each other and in response to external stimuli, especially a shock, like wheat or fertilizer shortages due to the war in Ukraine or climatological events such as flood, drought or other natural disasters. The team will use systems dynamics modeling and statistical modeling.

“I’m really excited to foster this connection among APL, SAIS and the Berman Institute,” Lee noted. “This is an entirely new domain for APL to extend its data science and modeling expertise, and these modeling approaches are novel in the context of food systems. It’s our hope that we can understand a little more about these systems so critical to our society, and ultimately make them more efficient and resilient.”

The 35 selected winners are investigating topics across the sciences and humanities, including neuroscience, cancer research, racism in policing, sustainable materials design and artificial intelligence.

“Bold and innovative solutions to the world’s most complex social and scientific problems are rarely relegated to a single field or discipline,” says Ron Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University, in an announcement about the 2022 winners. “This year’s Discovery Award proposals harness the deep reservoirs of cross-disciplinary creativity across our university and show how vital the work of our faculty continues to be.”