Professor Katherine Yanhang Zhang is the ME Department’s newest recipient of the prestigious NSF CAREER Award. The research objective of her Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) research is to create a novel experimental methodology to investigate the local elastic and viscoelastic properties and forces within extracellular matrix (ECM) with well-defined global mechanical properties and under controlled tissue-level mechanical loading; and quantitatively assess the impact of tissue-level mechanical loading on the regulation of local cell contraction forces and ECM microenvironment. ECM provides the principal avenue for mechanochemical communication between tissue and cells. These signals play critical roles in establishing tissue structure-function relationships and controlling cell fate. To date, little is known about how mechanical forces are translated within the ECM from tissue to cellular level. Such kind of information is critical for the future expansion of the knowledge of cellular mechanotransduction within the context of living tissues and organisms.
The highly interdisciplinary and integrative nature of this research will facilitate advances in a wide variety of fields. Results from the proposed research will allow us to better understand the mechanisms by which ECM mechanics influence cell and tissue behavior, and the onset of pathology in a number of tissues in which altered mechanics play important roles. The education plan of this CAREER proposal will incorporate several outreach activities that reflect the need of early intervention and mentorship on increasing the participation of women and minorities in science and engineering to existing outreach programs at Boston University. The multi-disciplinary and multi-level education plan will establish an attractive and collaborative learning environment for students from all levels, help students acquire knowledge from different fields, and facilitate students’ communication skills across disciplines.