Nicholas WithamUniversity of Utah biomedical engineering Ph.D. student Nicholas Witham has earned first place — and $20,000 — in the inaugural Wilkes Center Student Innovation Prize. His project, “Renewable Energy and Carbon Capture with Thermomotive Biopolymer Textiles,” proposes employing a class of materials that would expand and contract along with the Earth’s daily temperature cycles.

Witham currently works in the lab of Florian Solzbacher, professor and chair of the Price College of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, researching biomedical uses for these “artificial muscles.”

The University of Utah Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy established the competition earlier this year, inviting students across the U to submit their most creative and innovative ideas for tackling climate change. Students are evaluated on their proposal’s impact, scalability, and feasibility, as well as other potential benefits to people and ecosystems beyond the reduction of carbon emissions.

Witham’s research specialty is at the intersection between mechatronics, electrical instrumentation, and materials science. His work in Solzbacher’s lab involves developing methods to enable large scale manufacturing of inexpensive thermomotive polymer actuators, with an eye toward their use in biomimetic control for prosthetic limbs.

Continue reading at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.