Tennessee Today Spotlights Andy Sarles as Faculty Trailblazer

Tennessee Today is spotlighting College of Engineering faculty who are trailblazers in and out of the classroom.

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A rising star in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering also happens to be one of its youngest.

Andy Sarles, born in West Virginia as the 1982 World’s Fair was winding down in Knoxville, has already left his mark on the college, as a student and more recently as an assistant professor.

Through his Bioinspired Materials and Transduction Laboratory, Sarles has broadened the understanding of biologically derived materials to allow for improved engineering use.

“We’ve looked at how molecules from plants and animal cells can be better utilized in constructing artificial membranes,” said Sarles. “The hope is that eventually these building blocks can lead to new ways of designing and building devices and materials that sense, harness energy, and communicate like cells.”

Learning how cells and molecules serve as transducers in the natural world could help improve medical screening devices. A key is the role of autonomic, or involuntary, behavior, like the reactions of the nervous system.

The project is funded by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research and interfaces Sarles’s team at UT with researchers at Virginia Tech, the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, and the University of Maryland.

“The autonomic behavior of many things in nature comes from the ability of systems to communicate at the cellular level and from their compartmentalization,” said Sarles. “Those features also enable collectivity, the ability of smaller things coming together to act as a larger unit.

“If we can implement functional biological molecules in synthetic assemblies that resemble the cellular environment, we can start moving toward more responsive life-like materials.”

Sarles also had a hand in another important breakthrough.

Along with colleagues at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Sarles co-authored a key study on the interaction of water droplets on oil-infused surfaces, something which could help pull clean water from fog or serve as a novel platform for molecular detection of airborne or surface-bound species.

That work has already gained some notice, appearing in the National Academy of Sciences’ official journal.

“His expertise and ideas are a real benefit for our students,” said Matthew Mench, head of the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering. “He’s allowed us to offer new techniques and research to students that help us stay on the cutting edge of bioinspired materials.”



Article provided by David Goddard (865-974-0683, david.goddard@utk.edu)

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