Engineering professor contributed to 'epidermal virtual reality' paper in Nature


By Ashley WennersHerron

EVANSTON, Il. — Xin Ning, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at Penn State, contributed to a study published in November in Nature. He completed the work during his time as a postdoctoral scholar in the laboratory of John Rogers, professor of mechanical engineering at Northwestern University.

The Northwestern University team, including Ning, developed a new thin, wireless system that adds a sense of touch to any virtual reality (VR) experience. Not only does this platform potentially add new dimensions to our long-distance relationships and entertainment, the technology also provides prosthetics with sensory feedback and imparts telemedicine with a human touch.

Referred to as an “epidermal VR” system, the device communicates touch through a fast, programmable array of miniature vibrating actuators embedded into a thin, soft, flexible material. The 15-centimeter-by-15-centimeter sheet-like prototypes comfortably laminate onto the curved surfaces of the skin without bulky batteries and cumbersome wires.

Ning is now applying what he learned on this project to his current work at Penn State.

“I’m taking this kind of thin, flexible electronic system and working to apply it to large structures that can be deployed in space,” Ning said. “I’m specifically interested in developing foldable electronics that can be easily transported off of Earth and utilized in the construction of satellites and other assemblies that are bulky and difficult to move.”

Read the full, original press release issued by Northwestern University here.


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Megan Lakatos



The Penn State Department of Aerospace Engineering, established in 1961 and the only aerospace engineering department in Pennsylvania, is consistently recognized as one of the top aerospace engineering departments in the nation, and is also an international leader in aerospace education, research, and engagement. Our undergraduate program is ranked 15th and our graduate programs are ranked 15th nationally by U.S. News & World Report, while one in 25 holders of a B.S. degree in aerospace engineering in the U.S. earned it from Penn State. Our students are consistently among the most highly recruited by industry, government, and graduate schools nationwide.

The department is built upon the fundamentals of academic integrity, innovation in research, and commitment to the advancement of industry. Through an innovative curriculum and world-class instruction that reflects current industry practice and embraces future trends, Penn State Aerospace Engineering graduates emerge as broadly educated, technically sound aerospace engineers who will become future leaders in a critical industry

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