Xiaobo Tan Exhibits Robotic Fish at NSF's USA Science & Engineering Festival

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January 11, 2011

Xiaobo Tan, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, joined other researchers and scientists at the first USA Science & Engineering Festival October 23 and 24 in Washington D.C. The event was an effort to re-invigorate interest in science, technology, engineering, and math by producing and presenting the most compelling and entertaining education exhibits. There were more than 1,500 interactive exhibits and 75 stage shows, primarily held on the National Mall. Tan’s exhibit, “Swimming with Robotic Fish,” was among the 15 exhibits selected to represent the National Science Foundation at the event.

Tan has developed a number of highly maneuverable robotic fish, some incorporating biomimetic electroactive polymers. The robotic fish have become an important avenue forrecruitment and K-12 outreach in the College of Engineering and on campus. Tan’s exhibit at the Festival had a similar effect on participants. “It was great fun for us to interact with the kids, and to see the excitement the robotic fish brought to them and their parents,” Tan said. Accompanying Tan on the trip were John Thon (in photo above), a teacher from Holt Junior High School; Freddie Alequin and Jianxun Wang, both PhD students of Tan’s; and Cody Thon, a student from Holt High School.

Tan also recently received a Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant from the National Science Foundation to develop robotic fish for detecting and monitoring the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. RAPID is an NSF funding mechanism developed specifically to respond to natural or anthropogenic disasters and similar unanticipated events, where a timely response is essential in achieving research results. Although the spewing of crude oil has been stopped, the oil that already leaked into the Gulf of Mexico is expected to impact the environment, ecosystem, and local economy for years to come. Monitoring and tracking the oil plume is critical for cleanup efforts, beach closure warnings, protection of sensitive areas, and understanding of the spill’s environmental and ecological impacts. With the pressing need from the Gulf crisis, this RAPID project aims to provide an efficient and economical technology for detecting and tracking the oil spill by leveraging ongoing work on robotic fish development at MSU and focusing on a few key technological areas, so that robotic fish equipped with crude oil sensors can operate reliably in rough environments like the Gulf.