As a future physician-scientist, I’m interested in developing and applying novel biomaterials to tissue engineering and medical devices, with an emphasis on solving challenging medical problems. My thesis aims are to identify and develop biomedical applications for liquid crystalline elastomers (LCEs), representing the collaborative effort between my co-advisors Dr. Timothy White and Dr. Kristi Anseth. Molecular alignment of reactive liquid crystalline mesogens can be enforced by surface, shear, and optical patterning methods due to strong intermolecular interactions and is retained upon crosslinking the mesogens into a network. In cases where mesogen alignment is programmed to be unidirectional across a large area, polymerization of reactive end groups results in a monodomain LCN (mLCN) that is stiffest in the direction of molecular alignment. Stiffness anisotropy is an inherent property of many aligned tissues, such as skeletal muscle. I’m interested in how skeletal muscle cells respond to stiffness anisotropy as a mechanobiological cue for collective cellular alignment.
LCEs can also achieve large, reversible actuation strains in response to stimuli such as heat due to the disruption of order in the network. Using shear alignment techniques such as direct ink writing allows for spatial control of molecular alignment and thus actuation. Furthermore, photothermal agents, which convert optical energy into heat, can be dispersed in LCEs allowing for spatiotemporal control of LCE actuation with light. The combination of these approaches allows for complex deformations. I am working to engineer LCEs for the development of active medical devices that can adapt to physiological changes with minimally-invasive stimuli. I am also involved in collaborative efforts to apply Photo-Expansion microscopy to 3D cell cultures and bioprinting granular and aligned hydrogel systems.