Research Highlights

Here is a sampling of the diverse and multidisciplinary research happening at the College of Engineering.

Small letters G, A, T, and C form larger letters A, B, and C.UW Engineers Invent Programming Language to Build Synthetic DNA (CSE/EE) »
A team of UW computer and electrical engineering researchers has developed a molecular programming language that could ultimately guide the behavior of chemical-reaction mixtures. In medicine, such networks could serve as "smart" drug deliverers or disease detectors at the cellular level.
blue blobs with green and red areas in betweenDepletion of “Traitor” Immune Cells Slows Cancer Growth in Mice (BioE) »
BioE associate professor Suzie Pun's research team has developed a strategy to slow tumor growth and prolong survival in mice with cancer by targeting and destroying a type of cell that dampens the body's immune response to cancer.
A woman in a mud-walled dwelling feeds the flame under an efficient cookstove.Cleaner Cookstoves for Developing Countries Reduce Emissions, Increase Efficiency (ME) »
UW engineers are working on designing a better cookstove for developing countries, where nearly 500 million households rely on burning materials for cooking and heat. Researchers will also develop software for manufacturers to modify the design to fit the needs of communities around the world.
diagram showing three microneedles extending just the right distance into the dermisMicroneedle Patch Could Replace Standard Tuberculosis Skin Test (MSE) »
Each year, millions of people in the US receive are tested for tuberculosis, which requires inserting a needle at a precise angle and depth. UW engineers have developed a patch embedded with tiny, biodegradable needles that may improve both the ease and accuracy of the standard tuberculosis test.
two small payment cards with antennas are held near each other with pink clouds in the backgroundWireless Devices Go Battery Free with New Communication Technique (CSE) »
UW engineers have created a new wireless communication system that allows devices to interact with each other without relying on batteries or wires for power. The technique is called "ambient backscatter" and harvests energy from ubiquitous TV and cellular transmissions.
a monitor shows a welcome screen and an eye tracker is positioned belowNew Study Shows Feasibility of Eye-Tracking to Replace Traditional Passwords (HCDE) »
Despite the difficulties in creating and remembering secure passwords, they are still the most common electronic authentication systems. A study lead by Cecilia Aragon, associate professor in HCDE, is exploring what is needed to make eye-tracking more ubiquitous than passwords.
diagram of illustration of the ear showing implant connected to an external piece just above the earImproved Cochlear Implant Detects Music (EE) »
A team of researchers led by Les Atlas, professor of electrical engineering, has developed a new way of processing the signals in cochlear implants to let users perceive differences between musical instruments, a significant improvement from what standard cochlear implants can offer.
diagram showing many back and forth car trips to the storeGrocery Delivery Service is Greener (CEE) »
Anne Goodchild, an associate professor in CEE has found that using a grocery delivery service can cut carbon dioxide emissions by at least half when compared to individual household trips to the store.
artist's image of a fusion-powered spacecraft with solar panels extended and Mars in the backgroundNuclear Fusion Rocket Could Send Humans to Mars (AA) »
A team of UW researchers and scientists at a Redmond-based space-propulsion company, led by UW Research Associate Professor of AA John Slough, are building components of a fusion-powered rocket aimed to clear many of the hurdles that block deep space travel in a project funded by NASA.
a thick, blue line indicating collagen buildup on the left with red and white matrix indicating tissue on the rightEngineered Biomaterial May Improve Success of Medical Implants (BioE, ChemE) »
UW researchers in bioengineering and chemical engineering have developed a synthetic substance that resists the body’s natural attack response to foreign objects. This substance may provide a significant improvement in successful medical implants requiring artificial valves and device.

Additional Research Highlights

polymer conjugation graphicNew Polymer Boosts Protein-based Therapies »
UW chemical engineers have developed a polymer that increases the effectiveness of protein therapeutics much more than current methods. These proteins provide the benefits to manage and cure diseases but without reduced biological activity.
treated paper shows a UW husky mascot outlineSticky Paper Offers Cheap, Easy Diagnostics Tool »
A new device made of paper may be a new, inexpensive solution to diagnose a multitude of health issues. By using a common industrial adhesive and a stack of paper, UW bioengineering researchers discovered that the finished product can attract proteins, antibodies and a host of other chemicals with medical significance.
a tagged crow on a treeTweet! Tweet! Tiny Electronic Tags Monitor Birds’ Social Networks »
Electronic tags designed at the UW can track when birds or other animals meet in the wild. The sensor, called Encounternet, uses programmable digital tags that can send and receive pulses – and there’s no need for researchers to be nearby, a requirement for the radio transmitters commonly-used by researchers.
stick figure from Balancer plug-inBrowser Plug-in Helps People Balance Their News Reading »
A new tool developed by a UW faculty member analyzes a person’s online reading habits for a month and calculates political bias. It then suggests sites that represent a different point of view and continues to monitor reading behavior and offer feedback.
graphic representing silicon lithographyPlasma Startup Creates High-energy Light for Smaller Microchips »
Two UW engineers have launched a startup, Zplasma, that aims to produce high-energy light needed to etch the next generation of microchips. The UW beam lasts up to 1,000 times longer than competing technologies and provides more control over the million-degree plasma that produces the light.
magnified view of drops moving along a diagnostic platformPortable Diagnostics Tool Designed to be Shaken, Not Stirred »
As medical researchers and engineers try to shrink diagnostics to pocket-size, one question is how to easily move and mix small samples of liquid. A new device developed by UW electrical engineer Karl Bohringer requires very little energy and avoids possible contamination by using a textured surface to push drops along a given path.
image of electrical response overlaid on the inner aortic wallFerroelectric Switching Discovered in Soft Biological Tissue »
Engineers at the UW have discovered an electrical property in arteries not seen before in mammalian tissues. The researchers found that the wall of the aorta, the largest blood vessel carrying blood from the heart, exhibits ferroelectricity, a response to an electric field known to exist in inorganic and synthetic materials.
hand holding smart phone with SpiroSmart app loadedNew App Could Replace Expensive Lung Monitoring Equipment »
Researchers at the UW, UW Medicine and Seattle Children’s hospital have developed a tool that measures lung health by breathing into the microphone on a smartphone. The results from the app are within 5 percent of those from commercial spirometers that run into the thousands of dollars.
A toilet seat plaque embedded in the completed sidewalkCommode-filled Road Wins Green Certification »
The Greenroads Foundation awarded its first-ever certification to a project in Bellingham, WA that uses recycled toilets in its roads and sidewalks. The crushed porcelain made up about 20 percent of the final aggregate mix, diverting about 5 tons of material from a landfill, according to the city.
detergent bottlesHazardous Chemical Emissions from Household Products »
UW professor of civil and environmental engineering Anne Steinemann uses chemical sleuthing to discover hidden dangers in everyday household products. By examining the air emitted from laundry machines, she has found top-selling scented liquid detergent and dryer sheet may contain hazardous chemicals, including two that are classified as carcinogens.
illustration excerpt - wireless power in the homeWireless Power for Implanted Heart Pumps »
A new system to send electricity over short distances has been shown to reliably power a mechanical heart pump. For patients, this system can free them from being tethered to a battery or external power source, lower their chance of infection and improve their quality of life. The system is being developed by Joshua Smith, associate professor of computer science and engineering and electrical engineering, and colleagues at UW and Intel.
Luis Ceze photoEnergy-efficient Programming to Curb Computers' Power Use »
A new system, co-developed by assistant professor of computer science and engineering Luis Ceze, has the potential to reduce a computer program's energy consumption by 50 percent or more. Called EnerJ, the system allows designated sections of code to tolerate tiny errors due to changes in voltage or other causes. A tenfold increase in battery life is a long-term goal.
2 students hold up water bottlesTaking the Guesswork Out of Clean Drinking Water »
At the 2011 UW Business Plan competition, EE student Charlie Matlack was part of the winning team for an inexpensive device that indicates when water disinfected by the sun is safe to drink. The student venture, called PotaVida, is planning to use the award money to spin their invention into a company.
illustration showing bladdr scan patternBetter Endoscopy Through Advanced Digital Imaging »
Eric Seibel, research associate professor of ME, co-authored a proposition for a bladder scan system that cuts costs and improves comfort and convenience in bladder cancer detection. The system would use the UW's ultrathin laser endoscope with software that stitches together images to create a 3-D panorama of the bladder interior.
hands holding a KindleSuitability of Digital Readers for Academia »
A study of how UW students may integrate an Amazon Kindle DX into their course reading shows that digital e-readers may not be ready for the college market. This is the first long-term investigation of e-readers in higher education. UW assistant professor of HCDE, Charlotte Lee, is co-author.
demonstration of a dimmed windowSmart Windows for Zero-energy Buildings »
UW engineers and architects are collaborating on smart windows that can change transparency depending on conditions and actually harvest energy from the sun's rays. Mechanical engineering professor Minoru Taya has developed a switchable dye that can be used on windows to boost buildings' energy efficiency. The project has received a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
a magnified view of chitosanProton-based Transistors for Connecting Machines and Organisms »
Materials scientists at the University of Washington have built a novel transistor that uses protons, creating a key piece for devices that can communicate directly with living things. Applications include direct sensing of cells in a laboratory. Longer term, however, a biocompatible version could be used for biological sensing and prosthetics.
wormwood plantImproving Cancer Treatments Using Pressurized Oxygen »
Henry Lai, a UW research professor of bioengineering, has combined the compound artemisinin—isolated from the plant commonly known as wormwood—with a high-pressure oxygen environment for a 50 percent increase in artemisinin's effectiveness against cancer cells in laboratory tests.
two students conduct tests in zero gravityFuel Storage in Microgravity »
Eight UW A&A students had the unforgettable opportunity to test their final lab project, a spinning drum for fuel transfer and storage, in a zero-gravity environment at NASA's Microgravity University. The UW Microgravity Team was among a dozen undergraduate teams chosen to participate. All projects must address a current problem in space science and be of possible use to NASA.
.calm application on iPhoneiPhone App for Self-awareness  »
At the first annual Shobe Prize competition, HCDE students Alexis Hope and Kate MacCorkle, CSE student Wayne Gerard, and CSE alumni Brian Le, Clint Tseng, and Megan Langley won for their iPhone application design. .calm aims to support those living with anxiety by encouraging self-awareness through the use of cognitive behavioral therapy.
the Manduca sexta moth in flightAnimal Flight Study to Advance the Development of Aerial Vehicles »
The Office of Naval Research has awarded a five-year, $7.5 million grant to a multi-university consortium led by the UW. The goal of the project is to study birds, insects and bats in order to develop aerial vehicles that can adapt to obstacles and fly in unpredictable conditions—such as zooming through dense forests or landing on moving objects. Associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics, Kristi Morgansen, is the principal investigator.
a biocompatible scaffold for heart repairA Strategy to Fix a Broken Heart »
Stem cells now offer hope for achieving what the body can't do: mending broken hearts. UW engineers and physicians have built a scaffold that supports the growth and integration of stem cell-derived cardiac muscle cells. Buddy Ratner, professor of bioengineering and Chuck Murray, professor of pathology and bioengineering are leading this work.
model of a protein in the Foldit gameComputer Gamers Tackle Protein Folding »
At any moment, thousands of computers are working away at calculating how physical forces would cause a protein to fold. But no computer in the world is big enough, and computers may not take the smartest approach. A UW team led by Zoran Popović, associate professor of computer science and engineering and David Baker, biochemistry professor, tried to make folding proteins into a game that people could play and compete. Foldit turns protein-folding into a game and awards points based on the internal energy of the 3-D protein structure, dictated by the laws of physics. See also: Zoran Popović explains Foldit on CNN or read about Foldit in the Fall 2010 Trend in Engineering.
Bonneville Dam spillwayNew Techniques to Manage Pacific Northwest Dams »
Civil engineers at the UW, Alan Hamlet and Stephen Burges, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' have taken a first look at how dams in the Columbia River basin, the nation's largest hydropower system, could be managed for a different climate. They developed a new technique to determine when to empty reservoirs in the winter for flood control and when to refill them in the spring to provide storage for the coming year.
a painted Yakama Power hydroelectric generatorBioresource-based Energy for Sustainable Societies »
Biofuels are increasingly popular, but also controversial. Ethanol from food crops has been criticized for raising food prices or displacing forests. Researchers at the UW, led by Dan Schwartz, chair and professor chemical engineering, have been working with local Native American tribes on a different approach to develop locally produced bioenergy that makes sense for the Pacific Northwest.
tiny sensor with custom electronicsResidential Electrical Wiring Acts as Antenna for Low-Power Sensor Data »
Sensors developed by researchers at the UW and the Georgia Institute of Technology use residential wiring to transmit information to and from almost anywhere in the home, allowing for wireless sensors that run for decades on a single watch battery. Shwetak Patel, assistant professor of computer science and electrical engineering is a principal investigator.
laptop with ultrasound deviceLow-cost Portable Ultrasound System for the Third World »
UW faculty from the human centered design and engineering and computer science and engineering departments, have advised undergraduate students on the development of a portable ultrasound system to be used in the third world. The students recently won a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenge grant.
Linda Ng Boyle in the driving simulatorDistracted Drivers Benefit from In-Car Coaching »
Linda Ng Boyle, UW associate professor of industrial & systems engineering and civil & environmental engineering, is researching driver-monitoring technology for commercial drivers, elderly drivers at risk of cognitive declines and drivers who have suffered traumatic brain injuries. Watch Professor Boyle on Driven to Distraction on UWTV.
rendering of a 30-foot-wide tidal turbineEnvironmental Monitoring of Tidal Turbines »
Harnessing the power of ocean tides has long been imagined, but is only now being put into practice. A demonstration project in Puget Sound will be the first tidal energy project on the west coast, and the first array of large-scale turbines to feed power from ocean tides into an electrical grid. UW researchers, including Brian Polagye in mechanical engineering, are devising ways to site the tidal turbines and measure their environmental effects.
magnified view of the biodegradable scaffold for stem cells growthDeveloping Biodegradable Structure for Stem Cell Growth »
High purity is a major challenge for stem cell therapy. Materials scientists at the UW have built a three-dimensional scaffold out of a natural material that mimics the binding sites for stem cells, allowing the cells to reproduce on a clean, biodegradable structure. Miqin Zhang, professor of materials science and engineering, is working with colleagues to conduct additional experiments.
A quantum dot (red) encapsulated in a gold shell.Combining Nanoparticles for Medical Applications »
Nanoparticles are being developed to perform a wide range of medical uses—imaging tumors, carrying drugs, delivering pulses of heat. Quantum dots and gold nanoparticles each have specific, beneficial applications. But put them together and their electrical fields interfere with each other, canceling out the effects. Xiaohu Gao, a UW assistant professor of bioengineering, is finding ways to combine the nanoparticles and preserve their functions.
Doctoral student Carl Hartung demonstrates the UW tool, Open Data Kit, to local village phone operators in UgandaNew Tools for Data-collection Using Cell Phones »
UW computer scientists have used Android, the open-source mobile operating system championed by Google, to turn a cell phone into a versatile data-collection device. Their free suite of tools, named Open Data Kit, is already used by organizations around the world that need inexpensive ways to gather information in areas with little infrastructure.
Greenroads logoGreenroads: Sustainability Metrics for Roadways »
Steve Muench, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, is developing a rating system that assesses the sustainability of new, reconstructed, and rehabilitated roads. Like several prior rating systems, including the LEED system for buildings, Greenroads awards credits for approved sustainable choices and can be used to certify projects.
An organic polymer circuit that transports both positive and negative charges.A Breakthrough in Organic Electronics »
Until recently, circuits built with organic materials have allowed only one type of charge to move through them. Sam Jenekhe, a UW professor of chemical engineering and chemistry, has helped develop an organic molecule that works to transport both positive and negative charges. The results represent the best performance to date in a single-component organic polymer semiconductor.
Electrical engineers Babak Parviz and Brian Otis and undergraduate student Carlton Himes (right to left) demonstrate a circuit that runs entirely off tree power.Powering Circuits with Electricity in Trees »
Researchers in the Department of Electrical Engineering have demonstrated that there is enough power in trees to run an electronic circuit. The team has developed a device that takes incoming voltage of as little as 20 millivolts and produces an output voltage of 1.1 volts, enough to run low-power sensors. The system could provide a low-cost option for detecting environmental conditions or forest fires or gauging a tree's health.
example of what someone would see on the home screen for BabyStepsTechnology for Medical and Educational Record-keeping »
Julie Kientz, an assistant professor of human-centered design and engineering, has developed high-tech tool called Baby Steps that takes photos and video, creates an online diary and family newsletters, and at the same time tracks a child's developmental milestones. Researchers found in a small pilot study that having the tool on parents' home computers doubled the collection of medically relevant information.
small image of Richard Storch on map of MozambiqueHealth Systems Engineering »
UW's Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering, chaired by Richard Storch, is developing a Center for Health Systems Engineering Best Practices. The center will concentrate in three areas: (1) major urban hospitals starting with UW Medical Center and Children’s Hospital, (2) a project to strengthen primary health care in Mozambique, and (3) U.S. inner city public health clinics and clinics serving remote rural areas.
cups created using inexpensive printing recipe3-D Printing »
UW researchers are combining the ancient art of ceramics and the new technology of 3-D printing. Along the way, they are making 3-D printing dramatically cheaper and adapting the methods for printing in glass. It's all happening in the Solheim Rapid Manufacturing Laboratory, co-directed by mechanical engineering professor Mark Ganter and associate professor Duane Storti.
MMP-2 surface proteins in the cell, drawn in by nanoprobes, slowing the tumor's spreadAugmenting Cancer Therapies with Nanoparticles »
By combining nanoparticles with a scorpion venom compound already being investigated for treating brain cancer, UW researchers found they could cut the spread of cancerous cells by 98 percent, compared to 45 percent for the scorpion venom alone. Miqin Zhang, professor of materials science and engineering, is working with colleagues to conduct additional experiments.
Professor Sam Jenekhe examines an apparatus in the labSolar Cells with Self-assembled Nanowires »
A team of researchers led by Samson A. Jenekhe, a UW professor of chemical engineering and chemistry, is boosting the efficiency of organic solar cells by using self-assembled polymer nanowires that help to convert sunlight into electrical energy.
tiny balls make up the light absorbing filmIncreasing Efficiency of Dye-sensitized Solar Cells »
By using a popcorn-ball design—tiny kernels clumped into much larger porous spheres—researchers at the University of Washington are able to manipulate light and more than double the efficiency of converting solar energy to electricity. The research is conducted in the lab of Guozhong Cao, a UW professor of materials science and engineering.
Kristi Morgansen drives a robofishRobofish (or "Fin Actuated Autonomous Underwater Vehicles") »
Schools of fish and herds of animals can maneuver smoothly and in unison. Kristi Morgansen, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics and adjunct professor of electrical engineering, asks, "How are they doing it?" and getting results in the lab.
Vials - same substance, different colors due to particle sizeQuantum Dots: Silencing Genes with Nanoparticles »
RNA interference holds great promise for medical science, but so far it has been difficult to apply the technique in living cells. Xiaohu Gao, an assistant professor of bioengineering, is collaborating with UW and Emory University scientists to address the problem and succeeding with a nanotechnology known as quantum dots.
contact lens with circuitsContact Lenses for Superhuman Vision »
Engineers at the University of Washington have for the first time used manufacturing techniques at microscopic scales to combine a flexible, biologically safe contact lens with an imprinted electronic circuit and lights. The lens is one example of research by Babak Parviz, a UW assistant professor of electrical engineering, into "micro devices for human performance augmentation." [ed. note 10/13: Parviz is now an affiliate professor of electrical engineering]
Port of TacomaDouble Cycling: Efficiency at the Ports »
Ports could use cranes more efficiently if they loaded and unloaded ships simultaneously. In doing so, the ports would increase efficiency, save costs and conserve fuel. Anne Goodchild, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, is collaborating on research that shows "double cycling" need not be complicated to yield significant improvements in efficiency.
image of a proteinFoldit: Competitive Protein Folding for Medical Science »
There are more than 100,000 different kinds in the human body. While we know many proteins' genetic sequence, we don't know how they fold up into complex shapes to play crucial biological roles. UW researchers, including Computer Science & Engineering associate professor Zoran Popović and professor David Salesin, have created a computer game that harnesses human intuition to solve problems that computers alone cannot. The game could develop into a tool to help defeat viruses such as HIV.
biofouling: marine hull with seaweed attachedAnti-Biofouling Materials »
Barnacles stick to ship hulls and proteins stick to artificial heart valves, adding significant fuel costs and causing infections. Shaoyi Jiang, a professor of chemical engineering and adjunct professor of bioengineering, is researching safe materials to solve these problems.