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David L

- Research Program Mentor

PhD candidate at University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)


Soft robotics, mechanical engineering, mechanical design, prototyping, rapid fabrication & additive manufacturing, mechanics of materials, prosthetics, medical & assistive robotics, mechatronics, tunable materials, actuation & sensing


I am currently a Ph.D. candidate in Mechanical Engineering & Applied Mechanics at the University of Pennsylvania, working in the areas of soft robotics, tunable materials. I am advised by Prof. Kevin Turner and Prof. James Pikul, and my work sits at the interface of a variety of disciplines, including mechanical engineering, mechanical design, mechanics of materials, robotics, and mechatronics. I recently received my M.S.E degree in Mechanical Engineering & Applied Mechanics from the University of Pennsylvania in 2020 and received my B.S. degree in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering from Cornell University in 2017, where I worked in the Organic Robotics Lab, advised by Prof. Rob Shepherd, and the Space Systems Design Studio, advised by Prof. Mason Peck. I also have previous work experience from internships at SpaceX and NASA. My personal interests span running, music, and volunteering in the Philadelphia community. I am passionate about teaching and enabling access to STEM education for students of all ages.

Project ideas

Project ideas are meant to help inspire student thinking about their own project. Students are in the driver seat of their research and are free to use any or none of the ideas shared by their mentors.

Fundamentals of soft robotic grippers for versatile operation in extreme environments

In this project, you will learn about the fundamentals of soft robotic grasping, actuator & sensor design, and explore the state-of-the-art tunable materials that enable successful operation in unstructured environments. You will write a scientific research paper surveying the current literature and key advances in the following areas: *Tunable materials (stiffness, adhesion) *Gripping strategies for objects of varying properties (size, mass, etc.) *Current sensing paradigms for grippers & object detection *Optimal techniques for rapid fabrication & deployment *Applications of novel grippers in unstructured environments & interactions (extraterrestrial, oceanic, human/robot interfaces)

Designing wearable soft devices for rehabilitation and augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR)

In this project, you will learn about novel soft systems that utilize programmable materials and explore their use in applications such as AR/VR & patient rehabilitation. Such material systems include pneumatically-driven & hydraulically-driven systems, electrothermal materials (SMA, SMP, LCE), electroadhesives (clutches & laminates), and tendon-driven systems. You will design and fabricate a pneumatically-driven wearable sleeve capable of rapid deployment and mechanical assistance during rehab and AR/VR tasks, and write a final scientific research paper detailing the state-of-the-art in the field of wearable robotics. Knowledge of mechanical design & CAD is recommended, but not required.

Coding skills

Matlab, Python, C, Arduino, CAD (Solidworks, Fusion 360)

Teaching experience

I have served as a teaching assistant for statics & mechanics of materials and robotics courses at the University of Pennsylvania for 3 years. As a part of my teaching, I have taught sophomore, junior, and senior-level undergraduate students, along with Master's and Ph.D- level graduate students from mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and robotics. I recently won a Graduate Teaching Award from the Mechanical Engineering & Applied Mechanics department at the University of Pennsylvania. I have also served as a research mentor for multiple high school students, undergraduate students, and Master's students over the last 5 years.


Work experience

SpaceX (2016 - 2016)
Production Intern, Dragon Integration & Test
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (2015 - 2015)
Mechanical Design Intern


Cornell University
BS Bachelor of Science (2017)
Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering
University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)
MSE Master of Science in Engineering
Mechanical Engineering & Applied Mechanics
University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)
PhD Doctor of Philosophy candidate
Mechanical Engineering & Applied Mechanics

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