June 17, 2020
Dr. Nadya Peek
Nadya Peek, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering, has received MIT Technology Review's annual TR35 Award. Every year, MIT Technology Review's Innovators Under 35 recognizes exceptionally talented young innovators whose work they believe has the greatest potential to transform the world.
At UW, Peek leads the Machine Agency, where she focuses on harnessing the precision of machines for the creativity of individuals. She co-directs UW DFab and is on the board of the Open Source Hardware Association.
According to Peek, automation has traditionally been employed for dull, dirty, and dangerous tasks, requiring large upfront investments in engineering and equipment. Instead, she develops systems that lower the threshold to deploying precise computer-controlled processes. This enables the precision and speed of automation to be broadly used in fields such as low-volume manufacturing, scientific exploration, and creative problem solving.
"Her goal is to give anyone with an idea the means to efficiently translate it into physical reality."
– MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW
She is currently working on production systems for digital fabrication in architecture and construction; automated experiment generation and execution in chemical engineering; and robotic farming of aquatic plants. Using human-centered design and engineering, Peek creates systems that allow domain experts in these areas to use automation without machine design expertise. Tools such as Machine Agency’s open-source tool-changing machine Jubilee make this type of work possible, even when working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Peek, this underlines the possibilities and resilience of distributed systems.
To enable fast and accessible machine-building for non-experts, Peek's earlier work developed the concept of object-oriented machine design. She established the Making Machines that Make project, designing modular machine components that could be assembled by non-experts into many different configurations and then directly controlled. Realizing this vision required innovation in machine design, networked controls, and human-machine interaction. Her Cardboard Machine Kit has been used by thousands of people worldwide—from children learning about STEAM to chefs making novel food preparation processes—to make hundreds of different machines.
Peek joined the HCDE faculty in 2018 after completing her PhD at the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms.
Honorees to the 2020 Innovators Under 35 will be recognized at the EmTech MIT event in October. Peek joins HCDE Professor Julie Kientz and PhD candidate John Porter as the Department’s prior recipients of the Innovator Under 35 Award.