Rivnay Explores Underwater Robots and Nerve Interfaces at SQI

March 13, 2018

When Jonathan Rivnay, biomedical engineering, joined the faculty about a year ago, he knew he was joining a community of outstanding collaborators where his research on organic bioelectronics could flourish.

“Northwestern presented an opportunity where the barrier between the more fundamental, chemistry and materials science side and the medical or translational side was really low.” The Simpson Querrey Institute for BioNanotechnology (SQI), in particular, felt like the perfect fit for his laboratory. “SQI was a logical choice — where it’s physically located, the type of research that’s going on here just brings all of that together.”

That environment has already generated collaborative projects, including one focused on incorporating the Rivnay group’s materials and devices into peripheral nerve interfaces. “It’s an opportunity to get plugged into the Northwestern ecosystem. There are folks in the medical school and at the the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab who will serve as collaborators and formal mentors on the project and allow us to span the range from fundamentals and fabrication, all the way to validation in animal models and feedback from clinicians.”

Perhaps the most unexpected of Rivnay’s collaborations is one shared with the Neuroscience and Robotics lab led by Malcolm MacIver. “Malcom’s group develops these underwater robots that steer based on active electrosense, which mimics the way some fish sense their environment. We got to talking about some of their challenges, and right away I thought our materials could help.” Initial experiments have proven promising. “I never thought I’d end up playing with robots, but it’s been neat to be able to show up on campus, have a few conversations, and suddenly be involved in these kinds of projects.”