Highlighting Dr. Miller and Dr. Fagg’s Research Project: Progressive Locomotor Learning in Infants at Risk for Cerebral Palsy

Dr. David Miller and Dr. Andrew Fagg are working with researchers and children all over the country to develop a device called the Self-Initiated Prone Progression Crawler (SIPPC) that they hope will be a new treatment for cerebral palsy. The project is called, “Progressive Locomotor Learning in Infants at Risk for Cerebral Palsy.”

Pictured is a child on the SIPPC 3 developed during a NSF NRI grant in 2015. The PIs were: Andy Fagg, David Miller, Lei Ding, and Thubi Kolobe. The grad students from AME that worked on this were Michael Nash and Mustafa Ghazi, both of whom have since graduated (Ph.D. in 2018). Currently, Mustafa Ghazi, as a PostDoc is working on the current version of the SIPPC for the most recent grant. Photo by Hugh Scott.

The research project was given its first grant in 2013, and the researchers (including undergraduate, graduate, and Postdoc students) were ready to create the SIPPC. According to Dr. Miller, “people are at risk for cerebral palsy, but there isn’t a diagnosis that’s done in the age group [they’re] dealing with.” There are, “children at risk for cerebral palsy because they’ve had some sort of trauma either during the birth process or while in the womb.” It’s usually that they’re not moving normally. So, to test the children’s mobility, they evaluate two different groups on the SIPPC. One group has a set of infants that are developing typically, and the other group has infants at risk for cerebral palsy.

Researchers are working on different aspects of this project from coast to coast. In Philadelphia, they bring in and work with all participating patients. In California, they are developing a set of sensors that are protocol for random leg movements in the first few months of child development. Here at OU, they’re developing and testing the SIPPC, “and the plan is to send that off to Philadelphia.”

Pictured is a child on the SIPPC 3 developed during a NSF NRI grant in 2015. The PIs were: Andy Fagg, David Miller, Lei Ding, and Thubi Kolobe. The grad students from AME that worked on this were Michael Nash and Mustafa Ghazi, both of whom have since graduated (Ph.D. in 2018). Currently, Mustafa Ghazi, as a PostDoc is working on the current version of the SIPPC for the most recent grant. Photo by Hugh Scott.

The SIPPC has gone through several revisions. Currently, the group is on its fourth version of the motorized skateboard called SIPPC-4. It’s a motorized skateboard the kids can lie down on, but it measures all the forces of the infants. It has a force-torque sensor, wheel encoders, a few computers, and some cameras onboard. The information automatically goes to a person’s phone or iPad. It also gives an interface to a therapist, so they can control it by getting it out of corners or stopping it if the kid is crying.

“The standard mode is where the kid actually touches the ground and tries to crawl as the device amplifies and quantizes the child’s movements.” So even if they’re a little weak, they get the idea of exploring and having self-determination. There is also an automated learning component.  “Even if the child does not touch the ground, but they make the motions as if they are crawling,” the device will work with them. The kids wear a suit that contains several position sensors so the robot can measure the arm and leg positions and movements on the SIPPC.” This way the automated system can coordinate the robot’s movements with the child’s actions.

Dr. Miller said he’s, “hopeful that this research will, probably in the long term, provide some benefit to these subjects or others with a similar condition.”

AME Hosts Annual Graduate Program Meet and Greet

Saturday, February 20th, we hosted our annual AME Graduate Program Meet and Greet. The slides and Zoom video can be found below if you were unable to make it to the event.

Link to the Powerpoint presentation: Workshop for undergraduate recruitment – 1-14-2021

Link to the complete Zoom meeting: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nUjSXw3SP0KgbJhD-aM6b-nWuc3PZi5v/view?usp=sharing

Dr. Rong Gan Recognized by OU on International Women and Girls in STEM Day

AME’s Dr. Rong Gan was recognized by OU on International Women and Girls in STEM Day. The full article can be found below or through this link: https://ou.edu/web/research/women-in-science. Congratulations Dr. Gan!

Rong Zhu Gan is a Presidential Research Professor and the Charles E. Foster Chair in the Gallogly College of Engineering, Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. Her current research is supported by the Department of Defense and explores blast exposure hearing loss.

Supported by a $2.5 million DoD grant to understand blast-induced hearing loss by using biomedical measurement, her team developed the first 3D computational model to predict the blast wave transmission outside into the cochlear. A current grant extends that work to explore a cure for blast-induced hearing loss by using a leading diabetes drug that has the potential to recovery sensory auditory damage.

Gan has two patents currently under review, adding to two previous patent awards. One of the patents being reviewed is for use of the diabetes drug to treat trauma-induced hearing loss; the other is for mid-ear reconstruction using a 3D printer that can print soft and hard tissue.

Rong Gan Portrait

She said she likes the challenge of studying hearing and her work has made others take notice, including being asked to serve on the DoD’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs. The CDMRP aims to advance medical and scientific research and fill research gaps by funding high-impact, high-risk and high-gain projects that other agencies may not venture to fund.

“Hearing is a challenge,” Gan said. “Also hearing is more close to the patient, to the benefit of society. It is not the pure, basic research. We are close to real society…I am very honored to be a part of the CDMRP panel to determine this funding.”

Gan’s research success is made all the more impressive by the perseverance that presided it.

Born in Wuhan, China, Gan’s educational opportunities were limited during the Cultural Revolution in China. She trained as a mechanical engineer and worked at a car manufacturing company from 1968 to 1978. With the end of the Cultural Revolution, she went back to school to pursue a graduate education, changing her area of study from mechanical engineering to biomechanics.

“In 1978, I met the father of biomechanics or biomedical engineering, YC Fung from the U.S., when he visited Huazhong University of Science and Technology,” she said. “Since then, I was YC Fung’s student.”

Yuan-Cheng “Bert” Fung was an American bioengineer, regarded as a founding figure of bioengineering, tissue engineering, and the “Founder of Modern Biomechanics.”

In 1983, Fung hosted the first U.S., China and Japan biomechanics conference at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan. Gan was a master’s student at the time and reported her first scientific paper during that meeting.

She wanted to study with Fung in his lab at U.C. San Diego, but didn’t have the English language skills to pass the entrance exam. Instead, she used Russian as her foreign language to complete a master’s degree in mathematics at the University of Alberta Edmonton, Canada.

Fung and Gan crossed paths again in 1988 at a conference in Ottawa, where he introduced her to his former student, Michael Yen, who had started a biomedical engineering program at the University of Memphis. Gan completed her doctorate in biomedical engineering from the University of Memphis in 1992.

“My Ph.D. is in pulmonary blood flow in the lung biomechanics,” she said. “That was YC Fung’s direction. Later on, after my short postdoctoral period in New Mexico, I came to Oklahoma in 1995, totally changing my direction into hearing and the auditory system. I came to Oklahoma to be the director for hearing implantable devices at the Hough Ear Institute.”

Gan helped gain the institute’s first FDA-approved mid-ear implantable device.

In 1998, OU received a Special Opportunity Award to develop a biomedical engineering program, the first program of its kind in the region. Gan became the first biomedical engineering faculty member at OU. It began as a graduate program in 2003 and expanded to an undergraduate degree in 2016.

“You can see in my training how broad my background was. YC Fung is my mentor,” Gan said. “He introduced me to these new fields, biomechanics and biomedical engineering. He was the first advisory board member for (OU’s) biomedical engineering.”

Gan now pays that mentorship forward with students in her own lab.

“I always get very good students from the biomedical engineering department, and I love to teach and to mentor students,” she said. “In any lab, if you want to be successful, you must look for new direction. No matter your skin color or where you come from, you have to work hard. You must build your motivation for the science…you love the discussion, the discovery, to solve the unknown questions. I believe motivation is very important and finding a good mentor.”

She adds that a good professor is responsible for providing guidance to show students what is important, but a student’s success depends on their own motivation.

“Any success depends on yourself,” she said. “No matter what environment, persevere, work hard. If you really want to jump into science and technology, you need to have experience.”

AME Alumni Highlights: Dr. Amber Walker and Tayera Ellis

AME is delighted to have such talented Alumni who continue to make us proud after graduation. This week, we’re highlighting Dr. Amber Walker, who attended graduate school in 2010, and Tayera Ellis, who received her aerospace engineering degree in 2018.

Amber Walker, PhD

I’m currently in-between positions.  I just concluded a 3.5-year tour as a Program Manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and will soon be taking up a position leading Autonomous Systems strategy at Raytheon BBN.

I have had a varied career between active duty military service and my academic pursuits.  As an Army officer, I’ve served as a communications officer and operations researcher in between degrees at Oxford and OU.  I have designed and taught engineering curriculum at the United States Military Academy and advised undergraduate research, served in technical workforce development roles (recruitment and training), and most recently held a position as a Research and Development Program Manager responsible for the cost, schedule, and technical achievement of a portfolio of military defense projects – primarily aligned to the US Army – at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. I was responsible for defining problems, creating the means by which to solve them with large and small businesses alike, and overseeing the accomplishments of those performers for the life of the project.  I’ve done this with advanced missile systems and rockets, ground vehicles, novel human interfaces, self-reconfigurable modular robotics, and more.

I did my undergraduate degree at West Point in Mechanical/Aeronautical Engineering.  I had a number of unique and rewarding experiences there including a capstone project, flight laboratories aboard both Cessna fixed wing and Huey rotary wing platforms, trips to Cape Canaveral, and more.  In 2004 I was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship and began my two-year journey at Oxford, which was a much different experience than US-based graduate school. I took no courses, but instead worked for 20 months on a dissertation and viva related to ‘Fast Crack Propagation in Ductile Metals.’  I primarily investigated how we could use empirical evidence to improve finite element models to support the validation and testing of two metal alloys for Rolls Royce (civil air) and BMW (automobiles).  Finally, I had the opportunity to return to graduate school at OU in 2010 where I shifted my focus away from solid mechanics and into Human-Robot Interaction. I made this move following my experience as a military officer deployed to Iraq having watched the Army struggle to fully adopt a new radio system.  While technically more capable, the system suffered from poor user interface design and inspired me to focus on user-centered design, which I applied to robotics under Professor David Miller.  That really started my pivot into autonomous systems and advanced ground robots as well as wearables and I’m still passionate about creating technology that is intuitive, useful, and performance-enhancing.

Both of my graduate degrees have been paramount to achieving my professional goals and my growth as a leader in the field of autonomous systems and mechanical engineering.  I credit them with the ability to clearly communicate difficult technical subjects, both in writing and verbally, as well as exposing me to problems and solutions across multiple topic areas.  It’s amazing how often my experience from a machine shop (G-code) or design of experiments is called upon!  Further, I’ve really treasured the friends and colleagues with whom I’ve been able to work and the network of brilliant people that I can call upon.

Some of my favorite memories I have as an OU student include cleaning out the lab and then heading to Pepe’s for Mexican food (which is still way better in Oklahoma than in DC), stealing a parking space from Tai, any football game, and all the snow days!!  I think my first January back we were only on campus for 5 days 🙂

I had my first child while at OU, and it shows…he’s a HUGE Sooner football fan.  It is possible, with the right partner, to have meaningful academic and professional success while building a family and enjoying a work/life balance. It’s not always easy, and it does require commitment, but it is possible.  I’m encouraged to see more and more men and women finding a balance that suits their personal goals.


Tayera Ellis

I currently serve as a Test Director for space environmental tests. This role includes test planning, coordinating, and providing engineering modifications to test facilities. I brief and train test subjects, including astronauts, in the operation of test systems and training with the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU).

I have a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering, Class of 2018. I was a 4-time NASA intern, and Stress Engineering Intern for Spirit AeroSystems.

As an engineer in the industry, I don’t use much of the technical portion of my engineering degree, however, I do continue to use the skills I developed for studying and learning. Getting an aerospace engineering degree took patience and persistence, and many challenges in my career also take the same virtues.

My favorite memory as an OU Student was graduation.

It’s important for students to keep moving forward. Although classes are tough and highly technical, once you are working as an engineer in the industry, you will have opportunities to continue learning on the job and gain knowledge from other engineers with 20+ years of experience. Don’t give up, because the outcome is worth all the hard work!


Highlighting Dr. Cai’s Research

This week, we are highlighting Dr. Jie Cai’s research in the Smart Buildings Laboratory.  His research topics include Design and Control of Phase Change Material-Based Energy Storage, Control and Dynamic Modeling of Vapor-Compression System, Building Thermal Equipment for Power Frequency Regulation, Building Thermal Loads for Power Voltage Control, and Controls to Enable Sustainable Communities.

Dr. Cai directs the Smart Buildings Laboratory which houses a fully instrumented psychrometric chamber that can accommodate testing of thermal systems under accurately controlled environmental conditions. The facility is being actively utilized in support of several research projects related to ultra-high efficiency desalination technologies enabled by low-temperature refrigerant cycles, advanced controls of variable-speed heat pump equipment, and grid-interactive efficient buildings. The research efforts are currently supported by DOE, APRA-E, and leading HVAC manufacturers.

Senior Pre-Capstone Teams Build Autonomous Robots


This year’s winning robot.

This year’s senior Pre-Capstone teams were tasked with going through an extensive design process to design, build, and test an autonomous robot that could navigate around a predetermined track. This process was designed to mimic a companies design process following the required paperwork, design decisions, CAD, FEA, and ultimately working prototype.

Teams came up with one-off solutions such as 3D printed parts, wireless controlled robots, mechanical steering mechanisms, and an array of custom electrical components. This exercise helped the mechanical engineers broaden their skills and ideas while teaching students how to work through a complicated design process. The winning team as pictured above used a custom cardboard chassis to save on weight and 3D printed guide rails to keep the robot from hanging up on the wall. The team used high torque servo motors as a drive mechanism to maximize the weight they could carry while still remaining relatively fast. The video below shows the second-place team’s mechanical approach that used Legos and motors to quickly move around the track while rubbing against the wall. This team focused on using a simple solution to accomplish the same goal and minimizing design time.

All of the teams did well implementing several different design philosophies to highlight the importance of diverse ideas in engineering.

Below are the robots from other teams.



Boomer Rocket Team and Sooner Off-Road Begin Their Thousands Strong Campaigns!

This month, Boomer Rocket Team and Sooner Off-Road kicked off their Thousands Strong Campaigns! These student teams want your support to help them get to competition.

Sooner Off-Road is a student team that designs, manufactures, and races an off-road vehicle for the Baja SAE competition. They are hoping to raise $7,000 before their Thousands Strong campaign ends on December 5, 2020, at 11:55 p.m. The money donated to them will go towards the construction of the vehicle, software used for design, and travel expenses. As of today, they have reached 53% of their goal, and they could use your help! Donate to Sooner Off-Road by visiting their Thousands Strong website: https://thousandsstrong.ou.edu/project/22820

Boomer Rocket Team is a group of multidisciplinary engineering students dedicated to the design, construction, and launch of high powered rockets. BRT hopes to raise $3,000 before their Thousands Strong campaign ends on December 11, 2020, at 11:55 p.m. The money they receive will be used to purchase materials and send students to the Argonia Cup in Kansas. So far, they have reached 54% of their goal, and they need your help! Visit BRT’s Thousands Strong website to donate: https://thousandsstrong.ou.edu/project/22934

Thank you for your support!

Highlighting Dr. Guloglu

Dr. Gorkem Guloglu earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Oklahoma. He has spent most of his time here researching composite materials with Dr. M. Cengiz Altan. Now, Dr. Guloglu teaches students at the very university from which he earned his degrees.

Before coming to OU, Dr. Guloglu knew that he wanted to come to the United States and work with a great professor. He was fascinated with Dr. Altan, who he says is “famous in composite materials.” Once Dr. Guloglu got here, he “really loved OU because the campus is amazing, the people are amazing, and the research facilities have everything.” He said, “we have the freedom to do anything.”

As a master’s and Ph.D. student, Dr. Guloglu worked with two different types of materials which he combined to get the best advantages. In Dr. Altan’s lab he “worked with polymer and ceramic composites to create a different material.” By manufacturing, characterizing, and evolving the materials, he worked to “create a more strong and resilient material without compromising the weight.”

Currently, he lectures on Statics and Space Sciences & Astrodynamics. His favorite thing about OU is the community. He said he has never seen such dedication from students and faculty to a university anywhere else in the world. Although he’s not working in research right now, he continues to write articles about his past work. In the future, he hopes to do research and teach in Turkey as a faculty member at a prestigious university.

Dr. Guloglu’s passion is research because he loves the “independence of [it]. Contributing to science is what excites [him].” He wants to work with different types of polymers and different aspects of improving the polymer system like electrical applications and battery applications. He says, “the current battery technologies aren’t good enough. We need better technologies in battery and composite materials. [He’s] hoping to find a good technology to improve electric cars.”

If a student is curious about research and wants to improve technology and humanity, Dr. Guloglu believes a Ph.D. program is right for them. He said, “It’s a great opportunity. At OU, we have all the technologies, and we have great professors so they can do almost anything. There’s no limit.”

Research in Flexible Sensors

In Spring 2020, AME granted several Undergraduate Research Opportunity Awards (UROA) to faculty and undergraduate students. Dr. Yingtao Liu and his student, Vincent Webster, received one of these awards, which Phillips 66 sponsored.  Vincent is a senior in aerospace engineering.  About his research, Vincent writes:

My research consisted of developing flexible sensors used in several applications including human motion detection, sensor arrays, soft robotics, biomechanics, structural health monitoring, and prosthetic devices. These sensors measure the force applied to them using a technique called piezoresistivity. Piezoresistivity is characterized as the change in electrical resistance of the material due to an applied deformation. Highly flexible piezoresistive sensors typically decrease their electrical resistance during an applied load. The decrease in resistance occurs due to the variation of microstructures and properties of the materials under loads. To fabricate these sensors, flexible PDMS polymer, was used as the bulk material of the sensor. Carbon nanotubes were uniformly dispersed within the polymer to form the electrical conductive network microstructures. Sugar particles were then added during the fabrication process to create a mixture of carbon nanotube, PDMS, and sugar combination. The sample is then submerged in water to ideally release all the sugar from the sample. The traditional sugar removal method using water can take days to completely remove all the sugar particles. To reduce this extraction time, we would submerge the samples in water and microwave them. This would rapidly increase the temperature of the samples within a minute and the samples would expand and allow water to saturate the sample, leading to the rapid removal of all sugar particles and forming desired open-cell microstructures.

This research built a solid foundation for the rapid manufacturing of piezoresistive polymer foams for broad sensing applications. Our preliminary results have demonstrated that the developed method is able to effectively control materials’ microstructures, enhance carbon nanotube dispersions, and optimize their sensing function. Collaborating with Dr. Liu’s graduate student, Blake Herren, has motivated me to pursue graduate study at OU. Many thanks to the generous support of AME and Phillips 66.

Great job, Vincent!

Research in Ultra-High Thermal Conductivity

Dr. Jivtesh Garg and his graduate students are exploring a new class of ultra-hard boron-carbide materials such as BC2N and BC5 for ultra-high thermal conductivity values. Their goal is to achieve thermal conductivity values higher than diamond and graphene (> 5000 W/mK).

They are using quantum-mechanical calculations based on density-functional theory to predict thermal transport properties. Simultaneously the group is using laser-based frequency-domain thermoreflectance measurements (FDTR) to experimentally measure these high thermal conductivity values. Ph.D. students Rajmohan Muthaiah, Avinash Nayal, and Roshan Annam are conducting this research.

The group has also developed advanced functionalization schemes to more efficiently couple graphene with polymers for thermal transport applications. Graphene is a wonder material with extraordinary thermal, mechanical, and electrical properties. By efficiently coupling graphene with polymer, a large enhancement in properties can be achieved. Initial experimental results suggest dramatic improvement in the thermal conductivity of polymers such as polyetherimide. Developed functionalization schemes are being applied to a wide range of polymers. Ph.D. students Fatema Tarannum and Swapneel Danayat are involved in this research.

They are further exploring non-equilibrium phonon effects for the design of high-efficiency hot carrier solar cells and thermoelectric materials. Electrons in solar cells thermalize through interactions with lattice vibrations (phonons). By engineering non-equilibrium phonon effects to generate hot phonons, the thermalization of electrons can be inhibited, thereby enhancing solar cell efficiency. Non-equilibrium phonon effects also enhance the efficiency of thermoelectrics by mitigating heat loss through lattice vibrations.  Fundamental first-principles techniques coupled with Monte-Carlo simulations are being used to study non-equilibrium phonon effects.

Through advanced simulations and state-of-the-art experimental measurements, the group aims to develop the next generation of advanced composite materials for thermal management and energy conversion applications and is a world leader in thermal management technologies.