- Advisor: Beth Pruitt
- Department: Biomolecular Science and Engineering
- Campus: UCSB
- BioPACIFIC MIP Research: SET 3 - Functional Biomimics
What is your research focus?
Active materials are a collection of self-driven units that independently operate to give a material unique, large-scale, global properties. Mammalian epithelial tissue, which comprises our skin and provides a barrier layer for all our organs, is one of the best examples of an active material that already exists in nature. For example, when local regions of epithelial cells within the tissue are damaged, neighboring cells can rearrange via active migration to maintain the integrity of the tissue. Additionally in some epithelial cancers, tumor malignancy increases as the environment becomes mechanically stiffer. As a material, the epithelium therefore offers large potential in advancing synthetic biology for engineering active materials that can locally repair themselves when damaged, or globally alter their mechanical properties to adapt to a particular environment (see SET Bioderived Materials). My research aims to understand how epithelial tissue alters its internal organization as an active material in response to mechanical stresses. My methods involve designing and developing novel experimental platforms that apply mechanical stresses to epithelial tissue. In parallel, I employ various computational tools to quantify and predict both individual and collective cellular behavior from these network stresses. This work will ultimately guide an approach to create synthetic materials with similar characteristics (see SET Functional Biomimics). This work aligns well with the BioPACIFIC MIP mission to advance synthetic biology through an understanding of biomimicry and bio-inspired functional materials.
What excites you about NSF BioPACIFIC MIP?
After I complete my PhD, I will pursue a high-level position in industry R&D at the intersection of biology, materials science, and mechanical engineering. The BioPACIFIC MIP Fellows and Affiliates Program offers a unique opportunity to bridge my role as an academic with an industry position through the various workshops and resources the program offers. Furthermore, scientific communication (e.g., presentations, writing, and illustrations) is a key value to me as a scientist. By joining a cohort of scientists and engineers with other perspectives, I will better hone my communication skills with others from outside disciplines and gain new insight into my own research. Lastly, my work requires a diverse array of tool development, from silicone elastomers to 3-D printed molds to light-induced adsorbed proteins. These processes embody the nature of a Materials Innovation Platform (MIP) infrastructure web, taking place in the Microfluidics Lab, Innovation Workshop, and Nanostructures Cleanroom Facility, respectively. By becoming a BioPACIFIC MIP Fellow I will have access to new training resources in biomaterials and a community that will help me advance as a scientist.