Faculty at the Forefront

Transforming the role of education through research and innovation

A campus connected wirelessly. Bulletproof fabric. A game-changing language-learning app. These ideas were all generated by Carnegie Mellon faculty.

World-changing ideas are born at Carnegie Mellon. From breakthroughs merging art and technology, to research dedicated to reducing poverty while saving the environment, Carnegie Mellon faculty stand at the forefront of their disciplines, generating ideas truly capable of improving society. As a part of this community, students are able to learn and grow through mentorship by our faculty. Students gain exposure not only to a diverse array of research opportunities, but also to some of the greatest minds in their academic discipline today.


Take a look at just a few of the projects our faculty have been invested in this year. Just imagine - with the help of these faculty, what could you do to change the world?



Red Whittaker: Pioneering Robotics

One small step by University Professor Red Whittaker's robots is one giant leap for mankind. 

In 2007, a Chevy Tahoe crossed the finish line of a 55-mile race on a former air force base in California. It averaged 14 miles per hour and followed all the traffic laws. It changed the world.

Led by William “Red” Whittaker, Fredkin University Research Professor of Robotics and director of the Field Robotics Center, the Carnegie Mellon University Tartan Racing team did something no one thought possible. A driverless, autonomous car named Boss drove swiftly and safely, sharing the road with human drivers and other robots.

A legend in the field of robotics, Whittaker’s life is a bit like a sci-fi novel — for one thing, there are a lot of robots in it. He has more than 60 robots to his credit, including the robot that performed reconnaissance before the cleanup of radioactive material at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, a place from which humans were banned.

After decades with earthbound robots, Whittaker has turned his gaze to the sky. In 2007, he co-founded Astrobotic, a lunar logistics company, with the aim of taking payloads to the moon and beyond. He’s done work on the Google Lunar XPrize, a competition with $30 million in prizes for the first privately funded team to land on the moon, travel 500 meters, and send video to Earth. Astrobotic and Carnegie Mellon are at work on a small rover for NASA that could reduce space exploration costs.

“Robots sometimes stun the world, inspire a lot of people and change the belief of what is possible,” Whittaker says. For more than 40 years, Whittaker has done the same.


Po-Shen Loh: Making Math Accessible Around the Globe

For mathematics Professor Po-Shen Loh, math is the art of creative thinking. Teaching math wasn’t enough for this self-described math evangelist. He launched Expii, a free math education platform that gathers difficult math problems and shares techniques for solving them.

“The way to get better at anything is to continuously work on challenges that are difficult, but not impossible,” he says. “It’s similar to athletic training: Do more today than you did yesterday.”

That’s not just a method Loh employs as an entrepreneur. It’s a mantra that he lives daily. When he became coach of the USA International Mathematical Olympiad team, he took it a step further, asking himself, “How can I use my time to raise the level of mathematics across the country? How can I use my mathematical skills to make the world a better place?”

He built his platform to truly personalize education to each individual student. By using algorithms to determine the difficulty of any given math problem and pairing them with coaching and solving techniques, users can learn at their own pace, in a way that’s efficient and effective.

Efficiency is important to Loh. Many days you can find him biking between his Carnegie Mellon classroom and his Expii office to optimize his time with students and building this startup.

Loh set out to change the way the world perceives math. And with Expii, he’s achieving that vision one problem at a time. 


Susan Tsu: Setting the Stage

For Susan Tsu, costume design is about more than the wardrobe itself. With an innovative approach to design, her work has appeared on stages worldwide, but it all started with the success of her first project: the original Godspell. “The first production that I designed ended up being a blockbuster hit. It was a great honor to be a part of something like that, but I knew I still had a lot more to learn.”

“At the core of it all, costume designers are people who examine the human condition,” she says. “We’re not only looking at clothing, we’re looking at the kinds of messages clothing can send.”

Now an expert in her field, she has garnered high praise from peers and critics alike, and prestigious awards including the 2016 Irene Sharaff Lifetime Achievement, the NY Drama Desk, NY Drama Critics, NY Young Film Critics, LA Distinguished Designer Awards and a Kennedy Center Medal of Achievement.

Whether it was her very first production, designs in America's regional theaters or at Russia’s Bolshoi Theatre, Tsu changes her approach with every challenge: “I adopt the skin of a chameleon so that for each new show, I think of a different process and strive to capture a different style.”

Her vision brings remarkable power and authenticity to every project she takes on. True to the Carnegie Mellon spirit of collaboration, she revels in assembling a group of artists from different cultures to share their most imaginative designs, with bold and inventive ideas, use of materials and technology. One example is her role as chief curator for “Innovative Costume of the 21st Century: The Next Generation,” hosted by the A.A. Bakhrushin Central State Theatre Museum in Moscow.

She says: “To come together as a group to celebrate the human experience — that’s how we’ll learn from each other.”


Roberta Klatzky: Redefining Human Touch

By pursuing the science of perception, Professor Roberta Klatzky is changing the way people see the world.

“What if touch was integrated into technology just as much as sight and sound?”

It was this provocative question, posed by a friend who studies touch, that catapulted Roberta Klatzky into the field of “surface haptic” technology. Her work on what kinds of stimulation might lead someone to feel patterns on a surface, instead of uniform flatness, is pushing this idea forward.

Klatzky, the Charles J. Queenan Jr. Professor of Psychology, specializes in the study of perception — discovering how people take sensory data from their receptors and turn it into actions. “I work with people who create changes in friction on glass phones and tablet surfaces using engineering tricks,” she says. She believes this eventually will help her team develop haptic technology that will produce different tactile effects, like a swatch of velvet on a smartphone screen or a raised graph on the surface of a tablet computer.

Making technology useful is a hallmark of her efforts. Her previous work focused on the development of the UCSB Personal Guidance system, which was a navigation aid for the blind that harnessed GPS. Other research is also geared toward application, which she says isn’t common across the field of cognitive science but certainly holds true here: “Carnegie Mellon wants to educate people to do useful work in the world, and that applies to my whole department.”

With a combination of expertise, collaboration and a pioneering outlook, Klatzky's work has the potential to change the way people see — and feel — the world.


Adam Feinberg: Founding the Future of Medical Treatment

Professor Adam Feinberg uses engineering principles to regenerate human tissue—and found a future with better disease treatments.

3-D printers captured Adam Feinberg’s attention. As he noted the wide variety of applications, Feinberg raised an important query: What if it could work with soft materials, like cells? That question has generated some of the most important biological engineering advancements, potentially changing treatment and transplants as we know it.

Today, Feinberg and his team are using 3-D printers to build human tissue from scratch: “We’ve been able to develop the technology to print soft biological materials like collagen — and we’re one of the first in the world to do that.”

Feinberg’s revolutionary research is leading to the generation of pieces of human heart muscle in a petri dish for medical research trials, potentially allowing cancer patients to see how their cells would react to chemotherapy, or one day restoring a blind person’s sight through a manufactured cornea. In the future, he hopes that his efforts will lead to new disease treatments, accelerate drug therapies and make them both less costly.

Thanks to Feinberg’s inventive mindset, and the combination of materials science, manufacturing, developmental biology and stem cell science, those pieces are coming together faster than ever before. The research he’s leading is poised to make an astounding impact on the medical world as we know it.

“The focus on interdisciplinary applications is almost fundamental to true innovation,” he says. “Because of Carnegie Mellon’s forward-thinking nature, we’re making tremendous strides in the area of repair and replacement to treat disease. This isn’t science fiction. It will happen.”