What tiny surfing robots teach us about surface tension — ScienceDaily


Spend an afternoon by a creek in the woods, and you’re likely to notice water striders — long-legged insects that dimple the surface of the water as they skate across. Or, dip one side of a toothpick in dish detergent before placing it in a bowl of water, and impress your grade schooler as the toothpick gently starts to move itself across the surface.

Both situations illustrate the concepts of surface tension and propulsion velocity. At Michigan Technological University, mechanical engineer Hassan Masoud and PhD student Saeed Jafari Kang have applied the lessons of the water strider and the soapy toothpick to develop an understanding of chemical manipulation of surface tension.

Their vehicle? Tiny surfing robots.

“During the past few decades, there have been many efforts to fabricate miniature robots, especially swimming robots,” said Masoud, an assistant professor in the mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics department. “Much less work has been done on tiny robots capable of surfing at the interface of water and air, what we call liquid interfaces, where very few robots are capable of propelling themselves.”

Beyond the obvious implications for future Lucasfilm droids designed for ocean planets (C-H2O), what are the practical applications of surfing robots?

“Understanding these mechanisms could help us understand colonization of bacteria in a body,” Masoud said. “The surfing robots could be used in biomedical applications for surgery. We are unraveling the potential of these systems.”

Hunting for Answers and the Marangoni Effect

During his doctoral studies and postdoc appointment, Masoud conducted research to understand the hydrodynamics of synthetic microrobots and the mechanisms by which they move through fluid. While helping a colleague with an experiment, Masoud made an observation he couldn’t explain. An aha! moment came shortly thereafter.

“During a conversation with a physicist, it occurred to me that what we had observed

Professor uses 21st century technology to teach the classics amid pandemic


For more than five decades, Professor Emeritus Charles Krohn has nourished the soul of his students, teaching the classics at the University of St. Thomas in Houston — and he wasn’t about to let the coronavirus get in the way.

“They couldn’t run me off, so I just stayed around when the pandemic hit,” said Krohn.

But that’s meant embracing technology and a whole new way of teaching — at the age of 91.

When asked if his students are helping him, Krohn responded, “Oh, yes, definitely. Yeah, especially if something technical as well. ‘Well, Professor Krohn, why don’t you try doing this?'”

He currently teaches five days a week and often relies on his theater background to engage his students. 

“It makes for more communication because you’re aware of the audience, as I’ve now made, and in a way more aware of the students in this online contact,” said Krohn.

Charles Krohn
Charles Krohn

His dedication wasn’t lost on his former students, who took to social media after his virtual teaching went viral. One former student wrote he … “left a lasting impression on our lives.”

The father of four and grandfather of six has no plans to slow down anytime soon.

“You’re 91 years young, but I’m curious, how old do you feel?” CBS News asked.

“I don’t have a line, but like Jack Benny once said, ‘How old am I? I am 39.'”

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Romanna Flores Shares How The Program Uses Music To Teach Latinx Students About STEAM


Romanna Flores is an IT Systems Analyst at Intel and as of this summer the cofounder of Mariachi STEAM, a summer program for young Latinx musicians that is dedicated to connecting the dots between science, technology, engineering, mathematics and music. 

“I like to say that I did not choose this career but that this career chose me,” shares Flores. “Every industry that I entered started with a creative focus and then evolved to a more technical position allowing me to create innovative, digital interactions. My willingness to learn and experiment with emerging technologies was embraced by application teams who welcomed a different perspective to problem-solving.” 

With Mariachi STEAM, Flores and her cofounder Richard Flores are hoping to cultivate the same encouraging, informative environment for Latinx students.

“Richard Flores and I both witnessed lack-of-representation in the summer programs that we were exposed to as parents and volunteers,” explains Flores. “We saw organizations trying to bring equity into their program but were struggling. The more that we talked, it really came down to the experience we wanted Latinx students to have, and then the concept for Mariachi STEAM started to evolve at a fast pace. We talked about incorporating hands-on STEAM activities into the program, but it was broader than that. We wanted to ensure that we were introducing students to organizations (like SHPE and 4-H) that would guide them on their journey. I had mentors in school that kept encouraging me to explore the arts, which is my passion. Their chorus message: there was a place for me – and that is the message I want to pass on to students.” 

Flores’ own work and guiding principles at Intel have encouraged her to continue