NSERC Funding Given to MME Faculty for Research and Innovation

Posted on July 04, 2019

Robot design, bone health and tissue engineering among the projects to take place

Three new Queen’s Mechanical and Materials Engineering faculty members have received funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) through the 2019 Discovery Grants program. The grants total more than $20 million given to 100 Queen’s researchers to pursue research and innovation.

Mechanical loads and bone health

Dr. Heidi Ploeg, Associate Professor, specializing in Orthopaedic Biomechanics, Mechanobiology, Mechanical Fatigue and Design will be studying the effect of mechanical loads on bone health so that physical therapy can be prescribed to promote stronger bones and prevent fractures. “We know bone strengthens with exercise,” says Dr. Ploeg. She will be working with clinician partners in the orthopaedics department of the Kingston Health Sciences Centre (which includes Kingston General Hospital and Hotel Dieu Hospital). Her research will also apply to implants. “If we can understand which loads are good for the bone we can design implants to take advantage of that.”

Along with the Discover Grants funding, Dr. Ploeg also received support from other NSERC Discovery Grants programs, including one of two Discovery Accelerator Supplements. Dr. Ploeg says University Research Services at Queen’s were instrumental in helping her to write the grant proposal for the funding.

Developmental Tissue Engineering

Dr. Roshni Rainbow, Assistant Professor, specializing in orthopaedic stem cell biology and tissue engineering, received an NSERC Discovery Grant as well as one of 13 Discovery Launch Supplements.

Her research will be focused on musculoskeletal morphogenesis, the developmental processes by which native tissues take shape as they mature towards their functioning adult form. The translational goal of this work is to integrate the morphogenic constituents with tissue engineering to establish a morphogenesis-driven platform for engineering functional, stable orthopaedic tissues. Current projects are focused on the interaction of neighbouring tissues during cartilage development.  She is currently establishing a lab at the Human Mobility Research Centre, where she works closely with collaborator, Dr. Heidi Ploeg, along with orthopaedic surgeons at Kingston General Hospital and researchers within the bioengineering community at Queen’s.

Robot design and locomotion

Dr. Amy Wu, Assistant Professor, specializing in mechatronics and human biomechanics, will use the grant to investigate human-robot interaction during locomotion through the development of bipedal walking robots. The long-term goal of her Discovery Grant research program is to develop personal, ambulatory robot companions. “Robots are becoming more prominent in our lives, and one day we may have to coexist with each other,” says Dr. Wu. “We should begin to understand how walking robots may influence our own gait patterns, but current walking robots are not designed for experiments with humans.” Dr. Wu’s team will develop a new bipedal robot capable of robust locomotion, yet safe enough for human studies.

Dr. Wu heads the Biomechanics x Robotics Lab, which is focused on facilitating human mobility through bio-inspired machine intelligence. Through her research she investigates the principles of human locomotion and balance to develop robotic systems, such as wearable exoskeletons and mobile-legged robots that will interact seamlessly with humans. Her lab is based at the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute at Queen’s, which houses researchers from the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, the School of Computing and the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies.

Another overarching goal of Dr. Wu’s research is to foster equitable access to robot technologies through the use of maker-style manufacturing techniques and open access platforms. “My ultimate vision of personal robot companions is that future users, regardless of socioeconomic background, can easily customize their own robots, both hardware and software, to empower their lives,” says Dr. Wu.