The ECE Ph.D. candidate was recognized for her research on a flexible implant that can activate muscles using blue light.

Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Ph.D. candidate Jiaao Lu has been awarded a Verbal Poster Award at InterfaceRice 2024, which was held in Houston, Texas from April 30 to May 1.

The research, done in collaboration with Emory University and Johns Hopkins University, focuses on new device technologies to support innovation in optogenetics, a technique used to control neuron activity or other cell types with light.

The two-day conference, hosted by Rice University and the Texas Medical Center, connects researchers, clinicians, and business leaders in the fields of neuroengineering, neurotechnology, neuroscience, and neurosurgery.

The award recognizes excellence in oral presentation among presented posters. There were 70 total posters accepted to this year’s conference.

Lu and fellow researchers in ECE Professor Muhannad Bakir’s Integrated 3D System Group are working on integrating a μLED chip with a flexible microelectrode array (MEA) for optogenetic activation, while simultaneously recording electrical activity in muscle tissue.

Recently, they developed an MEA with a single blue LED, which allows for targeted activation of specific opsins. Opsins are light-sensitive proteins that can be expressed in specific cells to control their activity using light.

So far, the technology has been successful in activating facial muscles and inducing jaw movement in transgenic mice.

“I had a rewarding time at the InterfaceRice conference,” Lu said. “The feedback on my project was highly encouraging, and discussions extended beyond engineers to include clinicians - actual users of my technology - who offered invaluable insights. These conversations also led to several opportunities for potential collaborations, which was very exciting.”

The next step in the research for Lu and her collaborators is to add multiple optical channels and incorporate more LED colors, allowing them to activate and observe more opsins.