Elisabeth Smela is a professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Maryland, where she has served on the faculty since 2000, and she also holds an appointment in the Institute for Systems Research. She received a BS in physics from MIT and MS and PhD degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. As a graduate student she spent a summer working in Tsukuba, Japan through the NSF Summer Institute. Dr. Smela worked as a postdoc and research scientist in Linkoping, Sweden and then in Risoe, Denmark before becoming Vice President of Research and Development at Santa Fe Science and Technology, New Mexico.
Dr. Smela’s interdisciplinary research interests center on microfabricated electroactive polymer (EAP) actuators and on sensors that include an organic or polymeric component. She microfabricated conjugated polymer actuators for the first time and more recently demonstrated electrokinetically-driven hydraulic polymer actuators. She is developing simple large-area tactile sensors based on latex and nano-carbon composites for cancer detection and for use in touch-sensitive skins for robots. She was also part of a team that created a “bionose” on a chip that employs living olfactory sensory neurons on the surface of a custom chip to detect odorants. Her teaching includes mechatronics, microfabrication, statistics, and materials science, and she has participated in Engineers without Borders.
Upon beginning a faculty member, Dr. Smela was awarded an NSF Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the DuPont Young Professor Award, the Outstanding Invention Award from the University’s Office of Technology Transfer, and the E. Robert Kent Junior Faculty Teaching Award. More recently, she was recognized with the EAPromising European Researcher Award from the European Society for Electromechanically Active Polymer Transducers and Artificial Muscles.