Engineered Magic: Wooden Seed Carriers Mimic the Behavior of Self-Burying Seeds

A vegetable plant growing next to its E-seed carrier. This seed was planted in a lab at Carnegie Mellon University in order to observe the effect on the seed of helpful fungus also carried in the E-seed.

Before a seed can grow into a tree, flower or plant, it needs to successfully implant itself in soil – a delicate and complex process. Seeds need to be able to take root and then remain protected from hungry birds and harsh environmental conditions. For the Erodium flower to implant a seed, its stalk forms a tightly wound, seed-carrying body with a long, curved tail at the top. When it begins to unwind, the twisting tail engages with the ground, causing the seed carrier to push itself upright. Further unwinding creates torque to drill down into the ground, burying the seed.

Inspired by Erodium’s magic, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Professor Teng Zhang worked with Lining Yao from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and a team of collaborators to engineer a biodegradable seed carrier referred to as E-seed. Their seed carrier, fashioned from wood veneer, could enable aerial seeding of difficult-to-access areas, and could be used for a variety of seeds or fertilizers and adapted to many different environments. The carriers also could be used to implant sensors for environmental monitoring. They might also assist in energy harvesting by implanting devices that create current based on temperature fluctuations.

Professor Teng Zhang
Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Professor Teng Zhang

“This is a perfect example demonstrating the beauty and power of bioinspired design. We learn from nature and eventually achieve superior performance by leveraging the freedom of engineering design,” said Zhang, who also serves as an executive committee member of the Bioinspired Institute.

The team’s research appeared in the February issue of Nature.

The project is led by Lining Yao, director of the Morphing Matter Lab in the School of Computer Science’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute at CMU. Zhang developed models and performed simulations to explain the working mechanism of the wood actuators and the benefits of E-seed design. The key authors of the paper also include Danli Luo, a former research assistant at the Morphing Matter Lab, Shu Yang, a materials scientist from the University of Pennsylvania, Guanyun Wang, a former postdoctoral researcher in the Morphing Matter Lab and now a faculty member at Zhejiang University, and Aditi Maheshwari and Andreea Danielescu from ​Accenture Labs.

“Seed burial has been heavily studied for decades in terms of mechanics, physics and materials science, but until now, no one has created an engineering equivalent,” said Yao. “The seed carrier research has been particularly rewarding because of its potential social impact. We get excited about things that could have a beneficial effect on nature.”

“Gaining insight into the mechanics of wood and seed drilling dynamics leads to improved design and optimization,” said Zhang. “I am excited to see, by embracing cross-disciplinary collaborations, mechanics can play a critical role in making our society more sustainable.”

Read more about this collaborative project.

A drone dropping E-Seed Carriers

(Written by Byron Spice and Alex Dunbar)

Avocado Power

Professor Ian Hosein

The high demand for lithium-ion batteries has triggered significant research interest in finding alternative ion carriers. In a recent publication, Biomedical and Chemical Engineering Professor Ian Hosein’s research team showed how they produced high performance hard carbon from avocado peels using high temperature processing. Electrochemical measurements confirmed the use of avocado-derived hard carbon as electrode active materials, with high reversible capacities of 320 mAh g−1 over 50 cycles at 50 mA g−1, good rate performance of 86 mAh g−1 at 3500 mA g−1, and Coulombic efficiencies above 99.9% after 500 cycles.

Ian Hosein holding a sample of avocado carbon

“We see avocado carbon as a cost effective and abundant source that yields a promising anode material for high-rate performance sodium-ion batteries,” says Hosein.

The research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Doctoral students Francielli Silva Genier, Shreyas Pathreeker, Robson Luis Schuarca and Dr. Mohammad Islam collaborated with Hosein on the research and publication in the IOPscience journal.

Professor Ian Hosein with an avocado and an avocado carbon sample

Rolling Right Off

New research from Syracuse University shows how nanochannels, oil and candle soot could provide a water repelling surface with numerous applications.

Surfaces that allow water or other liquids to roll right off are uniquely present in nature, such as on lotus leaves as well as on few aquatic insects, enabling them to walk on water or breathe under water by trapping a layer of air on their bodies. Such superhydrophobic surfaces can be helpful in a variety of engineering applications, ranging from coating of windshields and surgical tools, to steam turbines and condensers in power plants, and to improved hydrodynamics of submarines and ships.

Despite advancements in the development of artificially engineered superhydrophobic surfaces, durability and regenerative aspects of such surfaces remain elusive. Harsh working conditions including extreme exposure to water or humidity can deteriorate such surfaces especially after extended under-water usage.

Mechanical and aerospace engineering doctoral student Durgesh Ranjan and Professor Shalabh C. Maroo have developed a new approach for creating a durable superhydrophobic surface by first plasma-treating a fabricated porous nanochannel geometry on a silicon substrate followed by infusion-depletion of silicon oil and coating a layer of carbon derived from candle soot.

Surface Honey Test

“We are able to engineer a superhydrophobic surface which is durable against high-speed water jets, non-sticky to many liquids ranging from water to honey, and stable under water for months,” says Maroo.

Research from Ranjan, Maroo and An Zou was published in the January 2023 issue of the high impact Chemical Engineering Journal and the technology is also patent pending. Their surface  is capable of maintaining water contact angles of over 160° and roll off angle less than 5° even after undergoing 20 different tests, including chemical resistance to seawater and various solvents, high temperature exposure up to 570oF, condensation heat transfer, self-cleaning using fine all-purpose flour, frosting-defrosting cycles with ice, concentrated solar radiation exposure, and compatibility with organic products like honey, milk and syrup,  thus exhibiting potential real-world applications.

Syracuse University Part of Collaborative Team Researching Preventing Infections in Engineered Tissue and Implantable Devices

Advancements in biomedical devices such as knee and hip implants, heart valves, pacemakers, dental implants, stents, and catheters have improved quality of life for patients worldwide. These devices, however, introduce foreign material into a patient and are prone to chronic infections. Through a new grant, a cross-disciplinary group of experts will collaborate to develop new approaches to prevent device-associated infections and enhance the use of these implants.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $3.6 million grant to a team of researchers from five universities in a project titled “Collaborative Research: Growing Convergence Research: Infection-Resisting Resorbable Scaffolds for Engineering Human Tissue.” Syracuse University researchers teamed up with partners at Stevens Institute of Technology, Binghamton University, City College of New York, and the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School.

The project will address the development of healthy tissue and mitigate the risk of infection in implantable devices as new biomaterials are being developed to replace failed, damaged, or defective body parts. 

The Syracuse University team is led by Shikha Nangia, Associate Professor of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering, and Dacheng Ren, Associate Dean of Research, College of Engineering and Computer Science and Stevenson Endowed Professor of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering. 

“The novelty of this project is the cross-disciplinary convergence of microbiology, polymer science, computational biochemistry, and biomaterials science,” said Nangia.

Another aspect of the project is to train the next generation in infection control.

“The Ph.D. and undergraduate students in the research labs will travel to partner institutions during summer and gain immersive research experience in a new lab to broaden their expertise,” Nangia added.  “I am very excited about this opportunity.”

“This project team includes researchers from five institutions, who have been working together over the past several years. It is a great example of how researchers from different disciplines can work together to solve challenging problems through convergence science,” said Ren.

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Research Team Publishes Research on Efficient Conversion of Solar Energy

Quinn Qiao Lab

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Professor Quinn Qiao and a research team from the College of Engineering and Computer Science recently published two papers in Advanced Materials in collaboration with Peking University and other universities in Europe. Both papers focus on the organic solar cell (OSC), which is a photovoltaic device that converts solar energy to electrical energy. 

The first paper is titled Quasi-Homojunction Organic Nonfullerene Photovoltaics Featuring Fundamentals Distinct from Bulk Heterojunction and discusses the unconventional organic solar cells structure with more intrinsic charge generation and less charge recombination. The second paper is tilted Simultaneously Enhancing Exciton/Charge Transport in Organic Solar Cells by an Organoboron Additive and provides a facile strategy of morphology optimization to improve the performance of OSCs. In both cases, the solar cell’s power conversion efficiencies (PCE) increase which means they can convert solar energy to electrical energy more efficiently. And Qiao’s group confirmed the mechanism of better performance for the solar cell from experiments.

The research was conducted at Qiao’s solar cell lab in the Link Hall. An atomic force microscopy (AFM) was mainly used in the research to measure the current sensing AFM (C-AFM) data and an oscilloscope was used to obtain charge carrier dynamics data. The group has applied a patent for the measurement and has published many papers based on the technique recent years. In the future, the group will publish more influential papers in the field.

Four Engineering and Computer Science Faculty Receive NSF CAREER Awards in the 2021-2022 Academic Year

Sara Eftekharnejad, Ferdinando Fioretto, Zhao Qin and Teng Zeng

College of Engineering and Computer Science Professors Sara EftekharnejadFerdinando FiorettoZhao Qin and Teng Zeng received CAREER awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development program during the 2021-22 academic year.

The highly competitive NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program supports early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. Activities pursued by early-career faculty should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.

Eftekharnejad and Fioretto are members of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Qin and Zeng teach in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Eftekharnejad’s project, “Modeling and Quantification of the Interdependent Power Grid Uncertainties,” examines how conditions impact the U.S. electric power grid and looks at developing better methods of predicting grid disruptions. She is using statistical modeling of power grid failures to help predict power outages within rapid timeframes. Another focus is modeling power-generation uncertainties from various types of energy supplies, including those that are weather dependent. She and her team are working on using system measurements of grid status and condition uncertainties to find a dynamic model that adjusts in real time to help predict power outages before they occur.

In his project, “End-to-End Constrained Optimization Learning,” Fioretto is researching new models for solving computer optimization problems by accelerating data-driven learning. In that effort, he and his research team are approximating near-real-time integration of constrained optimization principles into machine learning algorithms. Optimized algorithms can improve an array of computer-based processes used in industrial applications that affect everyday life, such as meeting electricity demands efficiently, matching organ donors with receivers, scheduling flights and finding a nearby driver at a ride-sharing service.

Qin’s project, “Multiscale Mechanics of Mycelium for Lightweight, Strong and Sustainable Composites” seeks to reveal the fundamental principles that govern the multiscale mechanics of mycelium-based composites and integrate research into an educational program. Mycelium, produced during mushroom growth as the main body of fungi, plays an essential role in altering soil chemistry and mechanics, enabling a suitable living environment for different plant species.

Inland lakes in the northeastern United States have shown inconsistent trends of browning, a shift toward darker water color. Many of these lakes also receive inputs of organic contaminants originating from human activities within the lake watersheds. For “Impacts of Lake Browning on the Photochemical Fate of Organic Micropollutants,” Zeng is studying the sunlight-driven transformation of organic contaminants in the context of browning. The project is a collaboration with a volunteer lake monitoring and education program. He plans to develop new data and knowledge that will support development of adaptative lake monitoring programs and water treatment practices.

A total of nine Syracuse University faculty members received CAREER awards during the 2021-22 academic year. This is the largest number of the prestigious NSF awards earned in a single year.

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Professor Gurdip Singh Appointed as a Divisional Dean at George Mason University

Electrical engineering and computer science professor Gurdip Singh has been appointed divisional dean of the School of Computing at George Mason University. The School of Computing, together with the Volgenau School of Engineering, comprise Mason’s College of Engineering and Computing.

Singh has been on leave from Syracuse University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) since March of 2020, serving as division director for the Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering (CISE) Directorate with the National Science Foundation (NSF). As division director, he oversees 27 program officers, 12 administrative staff, and a budget of $240 million. Singh will complete his service with the NSF through the fall semester and will join George Mason on a full-time basis in January 2023.

Prior to serving as CISE division director, Singh served as associate dean for research and graduate programs in ECS, where he strengthened multidisciplinary research in several areas such as unmanned aerial systems, smart cities and energy. He put a specific focus on mentoring early career faculty and led ECS’s effort in the Syracuse University cluster-hire initiative where ECS’s multidisciplinary focus resulted in many faculty positions. Singh also led the formation of graduate professional development program, expansion of recruitment efforts for ECS graduate programs and development of mechanisms to provide timely recruitment data and projections to ECS departments.

Dacheng Ren currently serves as Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs in ECS.

“Dr. Singh provided foundations that we have grown to rapidly expand our research in the past two years,” said Ren. “This is a great opportunity for him and all of us at the College of Engineering and Computer Science know he will be very successful.”

Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Zhao Qin Receives NSF CAREER Award to Support Mycelium Research

Professor Zhao Qin

The future of construction materials may exist just inches below the surface of a typical lawn. In between the rocks and soil, a vast microfiber network is constantly assimilating wood chips along with plant waste. You may not see the network building, but you do see what it produces once mature – mushrooms.

“When temperature and humidity produce the right conditions, mushrooms grow out of the mycelium network that has existed beneath the ground,” says civil and environmental engineering Professor Zhao Qin.


Qin has been researching the structure of mycelium and the potential for it to be used in other adhesive applications. He sees it as an interface between material science, civil engineering and environmental engineering.

“It is like a glue that integrates wood chips and waste material and then assimilate all these pieces together,” says Qin. “Around cliff areas, people are looking to stabilize the soil. Mycelium is doing this all the time.”

Qin received a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award for his project, “Multiscale Mechanics of Mycelium for Lightweight, Strong and Sustainable Composites.” He seeks to reveal the fundamental principles that govern the multiscale mechanics of mycelium-based composites and integrate research into an educational program. Mycelium, produced during mushroom growth as the main body of fungi, plays an essential role in altering soil chemistry and mechanics, enabling a suitable living environment for different plant species.

He and his research team are building a computational model to show how mycelium blends wood chips and waste into complex microfiber structures.

“Once we have a computational model we can optimize the process,” says Qin. “We plan to generate the culture for Mycelium to grow in the lab. Then we generate conditions like temperature or pressure so we can characterize the strength of the material.”

Eventually, Qin wants to take these natural materials into the lab to see if it can be processed into a composite for infrastructure uses.

“A composite version of mycelium could require less energy to produce and be biocompatible,” says Qin. “It could be used for construction – think about similar properties to medium-density fiberboard  but integrated by a mycelium network rather than an adhesive. We want to see what is possible once we know how the mycelium achieve these mechanical properties.”

Qin says Syracuse University is the perfect environment for his research. He will be collaborating with Professors Daekwon Park and Nina Sharifi from the School of Architecture. Their project was initially funded by a CUSE Grant.

“This is a fantastic research institution. My colleagues here in Engineering and Computer Science and the School of Architecture are very supportive, we have excellent facilities and outstanding graduate students,” says Qin. “Once we set the recipe for these materials, we can apply that to real world applications in construction and architecture.”

“Our department is thrilled to see Dr. Qin’s work recognized by the NSF,” says civil and environmental engineering department chair Andria Costello Staniec. “His work is significant for modeling of bioinspired materials and will contribute to the development of eco-friendly composite materials that have wide applications in civil engineering and beyond.”

As part of the NSF grant, Qin is involving K-12 students in research and also plans to develop an educational exhibit related to mycelium study at the Museum of Science and Technology in downtown Syracuse.

“We will design educational programs that will help aspiring young engineers and scientists to learn by playing,” says Qin.

“Dr. Qin’s research is an outstanding example of the kind of research that ECS seeks to grow,” said College of Engineering and Computer Science Dean J. Cole Smith. “He is showing how to leverage his foundational excellence in science and engineering to construct effective composite materials. Furthermore, he is engaged in deep collaborations with some of our truly fantastic colleagues in the School of Architecture. I am so personally excited to see Dr. Qin recognized for the promising and innovative researcher that he is.”

2022 Engineering and Computer Science Research Day Awards

2022 Research Day

We are happy to announce the winners from the 2022 Engineering and Computer Science Research Day held on March 25th, 2022.

Poster Competition

1st Place: Elizabeth Oguntade, PhD student in Bioengineering.

On-Demand Activation of Functional Protein Surface Patterns with Tunable Topography
Suitable for Biomedical Applications. Advisor: Dr. James Henderson

2nd Place: Natalie Petryk, MS student in Bioengineering.

Synthesis of Shape Memory Polymer Foams with Off-the-Shelf Components for Improved
Commercialization. Advisor: Dr. Mary Beth Monroe

3rd Place: Alexander Hartwell, PhD student in Mechanical and Aerospace

Introduction of a Multilayered Cathode for Improved Internal
Cathode Tubular Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Performance. Advisor: Dr. Jeongmin Ahn
Honorable Mention: Saif Khalil Elsayed, MS student in Civil Engineering.
Modeling Self-Folding Hybrid SU-8 Skin for 3D Biosensing Microstructures.
Advisor: Dr. Zhao Qin

Oral Presentation Competition

Communication and Security Session

1st Place: Kai Li, PhD student in Electrical/Computer Engineering. Detect and
Mitigate Vulnerabilities in Ethereum Transaction Pool. Advisor: Dr. Yuzhe Tang

2nd Place: Xinyi Zhou, PhD student in Computer/Information Science. “This is
Fake! Shared it by Mistake”: Assessing the Intent of Fake News Spreaders. Advisor:
Dr. Reza Zafarani

Health and Well-being Session

1st Place: Yousr Dhaouadi, PhD student in Chemical Engineering. Forming
Bacterial Persisters with Light. Advisor: Dr. Dacheng Ren

2nd Place: Henry Beaman, PhD student in Bioengineering. Gas-Blown Super
Porous Hydrogels with Rapid Gelling and High Cell Viability for Cell Encapsulation.
Advisor: Dr. Mary Beth Monroe

Energy, Environment & Smart Materials Session

1st Place: Durgesh Ranjan, PhD student in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
Porous nanochannel wicks based solar vapor generation device. Advisor: Dr.
Shalabh Maroo

2nd Place: Alexander Johnson, PhD student in Civil Engineering. Estimating Dry
Deposition of Atmospheric Particles by Rain Washoff from Urban Surfaces.
Advisor: Dr. Cliff Davidson

Sensors, Robotics & Smart Systems Session

1st Place: Lin Zhang, PhD student in Computer/Information Science. Adaptive
Sensor Attack Detection for Cyber-Physical Systems. Advisor: Dr. Fanxin Kong

2nd Place: Zixin Jiang, PhD student in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering,
Short-term occupancy prediction driven intelligent HVAC control. Advisor: Dr. Bing

Biomedical and Chemical Engineering Professor Lawrence Tavlarides Retires After Remarkable Academic and Research Career

After 40 incredible years at Syracuse University, biomedical and chemical engineering Professor Lawrence Tavlarides will retire at the end of the Fall 2021 semester. Tavlarides received his BS, MS and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Pittsburgh in the 1960s. After working several years at Gulf Research and Development Center as a research engineer in Pennsylvania and completing his academic studies at the University of Pittsburgh he went through the academic professional ranks at Illinois Institute of Technology for the 12 years from 1969 – 1981. Tavlarides then joined Syracuse University in September  1981 as the chairman of the then chemical engineering and material science department for four years and has continued as a professor. He has received numerous honors and recognitions for contributions to the chemical engineering profession, academia and society. Tavlarides has taught numerous courses in chemical engineering, nuclear engineering and biochemical engineering. He has supervised 45 masters of science students ( 31 at SU ), 34 doctoral students  (23 at SU), and 13 post-doctoral associates at SU over his career.  His contributions with students and colleagues to research includes 1 book, 18 patents, 163 research publications , 2 educational publications and over 300 presentations  at technical meetings and Universities. He was principle investigator of 70 research grants ( 53 at SU) over his career. Tavlarides was also a member of numerous committees on treatment of nuclear wastes for the US Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission  in the first decade of 2000. He is proud to complete his career at Syracuse University.