Faculty & Research
Barry A. Trimmer
Professor, Henry Bromfield Pearson Professor of Natural Sciences
Neuromechanics and Biomimetic Devices Laboratory
Graduate Research Area:
Dr. Trimmer is interested in the control of locomotion and the
neural processes that organize sensory and motor information. He
is the head of two integrated research labs — the
Neuromechanics Laboratory uses an insect (the tobacco
hornworm, Manduca sexta) as its primary model system
because it has a brain with fewer neurons, many of which can be
identified and kept alive outside the animal. The Biomimetic
Devices Laboratory focuses on applying biological
principles in the design, fabrication and control of new types
of machines, including soft robots.
Currently we are pursuing two major projects:
Neuromechanics of Locomotion —
Animal locomotion is an intricate interplay between neural
processes and biomechanics. These components have co-evolved to
form "neuromechanical" control systems in which neural commands
organize actions and the structures and materials of the body
translate these commands into movements. In some cases
structures are able to accomplish movements with relatively
little or no command input, but most behaviors in natural
environments require intricate neural patterning. In animals
that have stiff skeletons (such as vertebrates and adult stage
arthropods), these motor programs rely on the constraints
imposed by joints to reduce the degrees of freedom and simplify
control. In contrast to animals with skeletons, soft animals do
not have the same limits on movements; they can deform in
complex ways and have virtually unlimited degrees of freedom.
One of our major research goals is to identify how soft animals
control their movements in a computationally efficient manner
using the principles of embodiment and morphological
Neuromechanical control systems
The control mechanisms needed to move soft animals and robots
are largely unknown.
Studying the forces, movements and neural commands in soft
animals can help to identify effective control strategies.
Computational simulation techniques can also be used to
control systems for soft 3-dimensional structures.
These experimental and simulation approaches are expected to
offer new computational paradigms for engineering structures and
controls for soft robots.
Tissue Engineering of Novel Devices —
One of our long-term goals is to
"grow" robotic devices using a combination of biosynthetic
materials, cellular modulation, and tissue engineering. In
collaboration with Professors Kaplan and Levin we are exploring
both invertebrate and vertebrate cell culture and regeneration
systems to structure muscles and supporting tissues on scaffolds
of biomaterials. These scaffolds could be degradable or allowed
to remain as part of an operational biorobot. Such biological
devices will be controlled using the simulation tools developed
for synthetic soft robots and will exploit recent advances in
soft material electronics.
For these cell-based systems, we are generating bundles of
contractile skeletal muscle tissue using insect muscle cells.
These constructs will be engineered to contract in a controlled,
coordinated fashion for eventual use as motors in soft robots.
Insect cells offer novel features, such as high force, low
oxygen demand, and low sterility requirements that are
Growing robotic devices: A
completely new approach to building
The goal is to harness the intrinsic
structure-building capability of
The approach is to make biopolymer
scaffolds with signaling molecules
that direct cells into the desired
shapes and functions.
Hybrid devices grown on conducting
substrates can be connected to
implanted microchips for autonomous
or remote teleoperation.
These devices will be cheap, mostly
biodegradable and biocompatible for
use in medical and environmental
Biology 134: Neurobiology
Biology 49: Experiments in Physiology
Electrical Engineering 100: Design of Medical Instrumentation
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