The Preston Innovation Laboratory (PI Lab) conducts interdisciplinary research at the intersection of energy, materials, and fluids.
Energy: In the face of growing concerns over depletion of nonrenewable resources and climate change, energy research is crucial. We approach this topic from several directions, including enhanced efficiency for power generation and recovery of waste heat and work. We also develop thermal management technologies to enable high-powered electronics, both for military and civilian applications.
Materials: The set of available materials limits the design and capability of engineered systems; by introducing new, functional materials, we aim to expand the realm of possibilities. We use existing materials in previously-untested application spaces – for example, the use of soft materials for grippers and actuators has dramatically expanded the capabilities of robots over the past decade. We also develop and test completely new materials that induce unique, unprecedented fluid-solid interactions.
Fluids: Fluid mechanics governs a vast array of natural phenomena, many of which we have adopted for man-made applications. Several examples of these biomimetic designs include superhydrophobic materials, based on the lotus leaf, and lubricant infused surfaces, inspired by the pitcher plant; both of these surfaces shed liquid droplets readily, enabling applications in fluid repellency. Other applications benefit from a high fluid affinity for a solid surface, which, on a structured or porous surface, is termed “wicking” (like the wick of an oil lamp). We study both of these regimes of fluid-solid interaction, as well as active control of fluids by methods like electrowetting.