Many students are initially exposed to entrepreneurship during their undergraduate years, when they are inspired with a revolutionary idea or enroll in an innovation-related course. However, for Dr. Erin Evke, entrepreneurship was a cornerstone of her upbringing. Growing up, she was exposed to the entrepreneurial spirit and process as her father spearheaded his venture, manufacturing scoreboards and video displays. She knew from a young age that entrepreneurship would become a part of her future. 

“For me, entrepreneurship has run throughout my family,” she said.  “My dad founded his business, Eversan, and I grew up surrounded by the entrepreneurial spirit.” she  

Before coming to the University of Michigan for her PhD in Materials Science and Engineering, she merged this entrepreneurial upbringing with her passion for engineering when she earned her Materials Engineering BSE while working at a start-up. 

“I really appreciated the versatility of the start-up environment,” she said. “You have so many roles, and can directly see the value to society you create.”

Today, at U-M, she is a member of the CFE’s Graduate Certificate Program and has deeply embedded herself within the entrepreneurial community. In addition to having been a Graduate Student Instructor for the popular, multidisciplinary course “Introduction to Materials and Manufacturing,” she is a mentor to more than a dozen promising students. Beyond her impressive extracurricular involvements, the pinnacle of her Michigan graduate experience is her research on cost effective, scalable solutions to wearable technology, optical tracking, and energy-harvesting devices. 

“My thesis was about using kirigami design principles to make highly tunable mechanical, electrical and optical systems,” Erin said.

In partnership with the Michigan College of Engineering Shtein Lab, Erin’s wearable technology enables a custom, portable, and inexpensive way to track joint motion and muscle behavior. Kirigami is the ancient Japanese art of paper cutting. Although kirigami is commonly understood as a form of paper art, when applied to materials science, it allows for the transformation of simple 2D materials into 3D engineering marvels. 

“Instead of just folding, kirigami also uses cutting to create intricate shapes…I’ve used kirigami for many engineering applications… For example, I used this technique to create a wearable sensing device,” she explained. 

After careful measurements, Erin can determine the optimal kirigami pattern that guides the placements of sensors. Ultimately, the kirigami method allows for the use of standard 2D fabrication techniques, while remaining flexible enough to conform to curved surfaces without wrinkling or buckling the material.

“I can change the cut geometry to conform to many different parts of the human body,” she said. “I designed a cut pattern that fits over my shoulder. By placing sensors at specific locations, we can use this to better track range of motion.”

This novel approach to materials science can be applied to a variety of fields, and Erin sees the great potential in rehabilitation and sports training applications. 

With their ability to create a model of a patient’s joint movement, kirigami devices are novel works of science with infinitely more capabilities. These devices could provide the basis for a unique, patient-centric venture to revolutionize rehabilitative medicine as we know it today. 

In the future, Erin plans to continue working at the intersection of engineering and entrepreneurship. Her recently accepted full-time position with Analog Devices aligns with her PhD in materials science and provides access to a plethora of entrepreneurial opportunities through their Analog Garage – the company’s internal start-up incubator. Through her wit, intuition, and innate entrepreneurial spirit, Dr. Erin Evke continues to use materials science to improve the lives of others. 

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