Activating fine-touch sensation
Photo by Evan Krape July 25, 2023
UD Engineering’s Laure Kayser received a Beckman Young Investigator award to support her research on assistive soft robotics and tactile displays
The University of Delaware’s Laure Kayser, assistant professor in the College of Engineering’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, has been named as a member of the 2023 class of Beckman Young Investigator Awardees.
This award recognizes researchers who exemplify the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation’s mission of supporting the most promising young faculty members in the early stages of their academic careers in the chemical and life sciences. The award is meant to foster the invention of methods, instruments, and materials that will open new avenues of research in science.
“The Materials Science and Engineering Department is extremely proud of Professor Kayser and her research,” said Joshua Zide, professor and chair of Materials Science and Engineering. “Her creative, outstanding, and transformative research make her an outstanding example of the type of early-stage academic leader that the Beckman Foundation seeks to recognize.”
This year’s 11 awardees will each receive $600,000 in funding over four years for cutting-edge research. Kayser was selected from a pool of nearly 200 applicants after a three-part review led by a panel of scientific experts.
“Throughout the next four years, our 2023 class of Beckman Young Investigators will be tackling a broad range of problems, from exploring the use of Earth-abundant main group elements to fabricating small devices that can produce touch sensation in assistive robots and displays,” said Anne Hultgren, executive director of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. “We are eager to be part of these incredible projects and to see our researchers’ results.”
With the funding from this award, Kayser will be working on the touch sensation devices project mentioned by Hultgren. Touch sensation is currently difficult to recreate in electronic devices because the technology that’s currently available is too large to activate the fine touch receptors in human skin, creating only bulk, non-realistic, sensations.
To address this challenge, the Kayser lab will use innovative chemistry to make materials and small devices that can be worn on the skin to stimulate the sense of touch. These materials would quickly change their mechanical properties when activated by electricity to instantly generate differences (such as hard versus soft) that can be felt by the wearer. And because they can be dissolved in liquid and printed on a variety of surfaces, this research can pave the way for future affordable, lightweight wearables that more accurately mimic touch sensation.
“It is an incredible honor to be named a Beckman Young Investigator,” said Kayser. “This award represents a unique opportunity for my group to pursue a very challenging project, to engineer devices for assistive soft robotics and tactile displays, and that has the potential to revolutionize accessibility for people with low vision and blindness.”
Kayser is the third faculty member from UD to receive this award, sharing this honor with Sharon Neal, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Kristi Kiick, Blue and Gold Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering.
“The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation’s support of junior investigators has enabled decades of transformative projects in the chemical and life sciences,” Kiick said. “It is an impactful program that has launched the careers of many of the best scientists across the U.S., allowing them to study creative and interesting scientific problems and to connect with a network of other scientists. I am delighted for Dr. Kayser to be a part of this cadre of investigators.”
About the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation
Located in Irvine, California, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation supports researchers and nonprofit research institutions in making the next generation of breakthroughs in chemistry and the life sciences. Founded in 1977 by 20th century scientific instrumentation pioneer Dr. Arnold O. Beckman, the Foundation supports United States institutions and young scientists whose creative, high-risk, and interdisciplinary research will lead to innovations and new tools and methods for scientific discovery. For more information, visit beckman-foundation.org.