Lead University: Carnegie Mellon University
PI: Philip LeDuc, Mechanical Engineering
Co-PIs: Burak Ozdoganlar, Mechanical Engineering

The overall objective of this project is to work with Innovalgae to understand single algal cells and how they release lipids as a response to mechanical stress. Cells are complex mechanoresponsive systems that can be manipulated with a diversity of mechanical stimuli, which are directly correlated to their functional response. While cell mechanics has been studied for many years in examining physiological disease, cell mechanics is also quite important in a diversity of other biological systems. One area where cell mechanics is important, but has been understudied, is in the mechanical response of algae. Algae are one of the most promising biofuel resources for addressing future low-cost, carbon-neutral energy needs in a liquid form, and algae also have a market in nutraceuticals. The ability to lyse (i.e., rupture) algae, and release their molecules including lipids and omega-3s, is fundamentally critical for efficient extraction fromalgae, leading to commercial applications. One potential way to study this, and in the future implement this in a high throughput form for algae molecule extraction, is to use microfluidic channels to impart fluid forces on the algae cells. When extracting molecules from algae with current techniques, the energy utilized for extraction is very inefficient. We will work on this project through focusing on two Specific Objectives. We will mechanically characterize the rupture strength of algae. We will also fabricate and test low-energy algae molecule extraction in microfluidic systems. The requested funding will provide support for 1 PhD student for 1 year. The PhD student, Ms. Jonelle Yu, has previously worked in industry at General Electric before returning for her PhD, and is well suited to this project. She will work with Innovalgae through her expertise in cell studies and microfabrication. This project will have implications in a number of areas including energy and nutraceuticals.