Graduate Students Honored at 2023 Crest & Fest

Andrew Morgan and Robert Baines were honored Wednesday by SEAS Dean Jeffrey Brock at the annual Crest & Fest celebration for their exceptional achievements in research.

The 2023 Harding Bliss Prize was awarded to Morgan, who received his doctorate degree in Mechanical Engineering. Morgan is advised by Prof. Aaron Dollar, and his thesis was titled “Precisely-Engineered Brush Active-Layer and Biomimetic Membranes for Aqueous Separations.”

Morgan’s work ​​focuses on observing, controlling, and planning robot manipulation. Throughout his research, Morgan published several peer-reviewed, full manuscript conference and journal papers (including nine first-author papers), including a paper in Science Robotics. Morgan’s works have been highly cited and have always pushed the boundaries of what’s possible with complex manipulation robot hands. 

For his research and intellectual contributions to the robot manipulation field, Morgan was also recently awarded a highly selective RSS Pioneer award, given to to early-career researchers in robotics. He also received the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program fellowship during his PhD tenure.  

He has also been a tireless social ambassador for Yale Engineering, planning hoodie distributions, softball games, and many other graduate student events. He also volunteered his time to work on such outreach events as the Yale Flipped Science Fair and the New Haven Science Fair.

The prize consists of an engraved silver bowl and is awarded each year to a student who has completed his or her Ph.D. thesis and "who has done most to further the intellectual life of the department."

This year’s winner of the 2023 Henry Prentiss Becton Graduate Prize is Robert Baines, who received his doctorate degree in Mechanical Engineering. He is advised by Prof. Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio, and his thesis is “​​Material System Design for Predictable Shape-Morphing Robots.”

Baines is developing soft active material systems that will allow next-generation robots to adapt their shape, properties, and behavioral control policies to changing tasks and environments. Through his body of research, Baines has sparked an entirely new sub-field known as “adaptive morphogenesis"—a way for robots to adapt to their environments by exploiting biologically inspired property changes. Within the field of robotics, the term has since become synonymous with “evolution on demand." He has authored high-impact papers in journals such as Nature, Nature Machine Intelligence, Nature Communications, Science Advances, and Advanced Materials.

Among other projects, Baines was the lead researcher on an Office of Naval Research-funded project to develop a bio-inspired reconfigurable limb for amphibious-legged locomotion. He also initiated a project in my group based on reconfigurable strain-limiting “skins," which can be re-applied in a different orientation to generate a new motion. 

Baines has also worked to share his knowledge with young people, participating in Ivy Open Labs, a mini-documentary series that encourages middle- and high-school student participation in STEM. He also took part in Yale's Science on Saturdays, running a booth with several soft robot demonstrations.

The Henry Prentiss Becton Graduate Prize comes with a certificate and $500.