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Penn Engineering professor Igor Bargatin's research in the 2021 Falling Walls Science Summit focuses on photophoretic levitation.

The 2021 Falling Walls Science Summit is featuring research by Penn Engineering professor Igor Bargatin, one of 10 winners in the Engineering and Technology category.

His research in the summit focuses on photophoretic levitation, a type of light-powered flight. Using nanocardboard, Bargatin demonstrated the ability to fly macroscopic materials in this way for the first time, Penn Engineering Today reported. This development could allow for the light-induced flight of larger structures, creating opportunities for to further explore the Earth’s mesosphere.  

Bargatin’s research will be presented virtually at the conference, which is streaming live on Nov. 8 and Nov. 9. 

“As we understand the photophoretic forces better, we should eventually be able to create a kind of a ‘magic carpet,’ a structure that is many meters in size and flying around using nothing but sunlight,” Bargatin told Penn Engineering Today. “And from that point we should be able to attach useful payloads such as sensors that could provide valuable scientific data from the mesosphere.”

The Falling Walls Science Summit was founded in 2009 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall, Penn Engineering Today reported. The event gathers researchers, politicians, and people in the business and media fields to discuss breakthrough ideas and answer the core question: “which are the next walls to fall in science and society?”

Bargatin’s primary research interests center around nanoelectromechanical systems and the intersections between various types of engineering, including materials science, electrical and mechanical engineering, and applied physics, Penn Engineering News reported. According to his research team, the Bargatin Group, he focuses on research regarding developments in nanofabrication techniques and their applications. 

Bargatin helped lead a 2018 study about the nanocardboard which he used in the research featured in the summit, Penn Engineering Today reported. The material is made of solid aluminum oxide exteriors and a mostly hollow interior, including a pattern of slit-shaped channels, mimicking traditional paper cardboard. The sandwich structure makes the material strong, yet light – a square centimeter weighs less than a thousandth of a gram. 

Bargatin has been a member of Penn's faculty since 2012, when he joined as an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, Penn Engineering News reported. 

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