In 2015, Dr. Yonas Tadesse, an assistant professor with the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS), was a recipient of the Young Investigator Program (YIP). Awarded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), funding provided by this grant allows Dr. Tadesse and his team to create a cost-effective, “bioinspired” muscular system in 3D form. Aiming to advance humanoid robots and other robotic systems for the ONR, his research is a part of the programs interest to discover and develop those US citizens or permanent residents who have received their Ph.D. in the last five years. As the deadline for the YIP award approaches, we spoke with Dr. Tadesse to gain insight on his involvement with the program and the ONR, as well as share his experience with his current research endeavors.

First, congratulations on winning a YIP award! What does winning this award mean for you and your research?

Thank you so much! The award means a lot of things for my career in exploring science and engineering since the competition is highly selective. First, it means that my research ambition is in line with the funding agency (ONR) needs.  Second, the research ideas and plans have significant merits to the scientific community.  The award allows me to explore fundamentals and answer the basic questions in robotics – materials to use, bioinspired design, modeling, fabrication, and system integration. Further, it enables me to integrate the research in my teaching and engage students to this fascinating field of research, robotics.

What do you think most contributed to your accomplishment in getting recognized?

I think the interdisciplinary researches that I have done in the past and the novel idea presented in the current program helped me to be recognized.  I explored the basic needs of ONR in the area of bioinspired design or bio-inspiration. Bioinspired design means that studying naturally existing systems and trying to replicate with synthetic materials, understand them by modeling, simulation and experiments.  I have done extensive literature review, bounced several ideas and critically evaluated the merits. My prior research in humanoid robots, smart materials and robotic fish designs helped me to explore novel approaches focused on ONR mission, particularly my work published in 2012 on fuel-powered robotic jellyfish has attracted the attention of several media outlets, showing the importance of the research.  I think all these helped me to put together ideas and proposed new solution for use in many robotic systems.

What advice would you offer those interested in applying?

I would like to advise the following:

  1. Understand the basic need(s) of the program of interest – read the program announcement carefully.
  2. Come up with several ideas and evaluate those comparing with literature –what are the benefits of the idea/technology proposed to the agency, how different are they with existing technologies, what are the merits, and identify the basic science to explore.
  3. Put more effort on showing how innovative the proposed work is using illustrations and figures.
  4. Show evidence that the proposed work can be accomplished with the given time frame and try to correlate the proposed work with prior effort by the PI.
  5. Communicate with program manager if there is an interest with the idea presented or if there is any match between the proposed work and the program announcement.

How do you plan to measure success overall in your research?

I planned to submit the findings in conference proceedings, journals, and presentation in workshops, and disseminate the knowledge obtained as one measure of success and evaluation.  Teaching, training, and mentoring students in research is the other measure of success.

How do you think this award will help you further your research career?

The award will help me to collaborate with other ONR principal investigators to work together and achieve significant results. It allows me to support my graduate and undergraduate students in carrying out critical research. It also enables me and my group to explore and expand our ideas to other agencies and have transition plans. Further, this grant provides us a good opportunity in participating in key conferences, workshops, and networking.