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Photo of Joesph Turner.
Engineering researchers develop new understanding of plant cells

A new technique employed in the Nano-Engineering Research Core Facility (NERCF) has allowed researchers to understand better how plant cells respond to environmental changes to control the flow of gases and water vapor. In a paper published in the National Academy of Science’s journal PNAS Nexus, Nebraska’s Joseph Turner, Robert W. Brightfelt Professor of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, and colleagues were able to quantify the anisotropic mechanical properties and interior cell pressure of a cell using a novel approach. When inserting the tip of a nanoindenter into the guard cells of a weed known as thale cress, researchers were able to move it vertically and laterally. Turner said this allowed for taking measurements in all directions, which proved a major breakthrough in the research and set a foundation for comparing plants. “The most exciting part of this research is that for the first time, we were able to capture the stomatic process in-plane. That was something no one had measured before,” Turner said. (11/13/23)

Shudipto Dishari in her lab.
Dishari seeking greener energy by researching plant polymers

Shudipto Dishari, the Ross McCollum associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, has recently begun work on research utilizing plant-based materials that could revolutionize the way electrochemical devices transport charge-bearing ions and produce electricity. “This project will uniquely valorize the remnants of corn harvest and Christmas trees and provide source material for a new polymer, which will be eco-friendly, cheap, and efficient,” Dishari said, “Through this work, we are also bringing a new concept in energy research — green energy by using green materials.” (11/3/23)

Stephen Morin on left and Ruiguo Yang on right.
Morin, Yang team craft adjustable arrays of microscopic lenses

With the aid of engineers Ruiguo Yang and Grayson Minnick, Stephen Morin’s team can now arrange and affix tiny gelatinous lenses to an elastic material. By carving the equivalent of aqueducts into the material and then running temperature-altering or water-gathering fluids through those channels, the researchers can also expand or contract the lenses in mere seconds — modifying their magnification, focal length, and other optical properties. Whereas insects and crustaceans evolved their multifaceted eyes to draw in panoramas of ancient environments, Morin’s team is envisioning the future: projecting signals onto sensors embedded in soft robotic skins, for instance, via on-demand control. (11/2/23)