Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina State University, has been named one of Popular Science’s “Brilliant 10” for his work establishing the foundations of the “internet of bionic things” in areas ranging from human-animal communication to insect biobots to human health monitoring devices.

“This is very exciting, because my work is based on outside-the-box thinking and I didn’t know what other people might think of it,” Bozkurt says. “Knowing that the work is exciting to others makes me want to work even harder.”

The Brilliant 10 is an annual feature profiling 10 young scientists and engineers who are doing truly groundbreaking work in their fields. Features on each of the awardees will appear in the October issue of Popular Science.

All at the bleeding edge

“At Popular Science, we believe many of the world’s most challenging problems can be solved through brilliant science and engineering,” Executive Editor Jennifer Bogo said in a statement. “Our 10 honorees are at the bleeding edge of their fields – and are already well on their way to making the world a better, safer, smarter place.”

Since arriving at NC State in 2010, Bozkurt and his team in the Integrated Bionic MicroSystems Laboratory have done extensive work on technologies to facilitate human-animal interactions and monitor human health.

Working with NC State faculty David Roberts and Barbara Sherman, Bozkurt developed a comprehensive suite of technologies that can be used to enhance communication between dogs and humans, with applications in everything from search and rescue to service dogs to training our pets. This collaborative work involves the creation of both hardware and software, as well as making novel use of existing technologies, and incorporating all of the technology into a harness that can be worn by dogs.

Bozkurt has also developed technology that allows cyborg cockroaches, or biobots, to pick up sounds with small microphones and seek out the source of the sound. In addition, he developed technology that can be used as an “invisible fence” to keep the biobots in a defined area. As part of a collaborative effort with NC State faculty Edgar Lobaton and Mihail Sichitiu, this technology is designed to help emergency personnel find and rescue survivors in the aftermath of a disaster. This builds on his earlier work in developing systems to control cockroaches and equip them for use in disaster-response situations.

Funded by NIH, Chancellor’s Innovation Fund

On a more fundamental research level, Bozkurt developed methods for electronically manipulating the flight muscles of moths and for monitoring the electrical signals moths use to control those muscles. The work opens the door to the development of remotely controlled moths for use in emergency response.

Bozkurt has also received funding from NC State’s Chancellor’s Innovation Fund and the National Institutes of Health to support his research into the capability of a miniaturized, wireless system to monitor sleep and detect sleep disorders with a long term goal of developing a low cost, low power, low noise, ultra-miniaturized, wireless system for assessing sleep physiology. Specifically, Bozkurt’s technology uses sensors to monitor blood flow and the oxygen level in the blood using near-infrared light.

Bozkurt has also received funding from the Chancellor’s Innovation Fund and National Science Foundation to develop smart fabrics with sensors integrated into textile fibers to monitor health and wellness.

In addition, Bozkurt is testbed leader for the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST) Center at NC State. In that capacity, Bozkurt builds and evaluates prototypes that draw on his research and that of other ASSIST collaborators to advance wearable health-monitoring technologies.

“I believe my lab is contributing to the ‘internet of things,’ in a unique way by focusing on developing novel interfaces between technology and biological organisms ranging from insects to humans,” Bozkurt says. “We work with collaborators in diverse disciplines. Those collaborators, and the graduate students in my lab, are essential partners in this innovative work that resulted with the prestigious recognition from Popular Science. I can only accept this honor on behalf of the entire team.”

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