Planes, Trains, Automobiles….and Cells?
Departments of Mechanical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Computational Biology, and Biological Sciences Carnegie Mellon University
Two areas that have always interested me are the mechanics of machines and the wonders of nature. My interest in mechanics, first beginning as a youth taking apart machines like lawn mowers, has intersected with my fascination with nature at the cellular and molecular levels. Here I will present how my lab has been merging mechanical engineering with biology. My lab approaches this intersection by envisioning cells and molecules as “systems” that can be investigated with some of the same fundamental approaches used on machines such as planes, trains, and automobiles looking for unifying principles. The biological systems range from mammalian cells to microorganisms to developmental biology systems (e.g. neurons, magnetic bacteria, energy generating bacteria, Xenopus laevis, stem cells) and we apply principles from mechanical engineering fields (e.g. solid mechanics, control theory, fluidics, heat transfer, design) to understand how these principles may apply across diverse nature-based systems. In addition, I will present in this talk our approaches of using solid mechanics in areas such as cell mechanotransduction. We pursue these goals through developing and utilizing unique custom-built systems as well as nanotechnology, microtechnology, and computational biology. These intersections are especially fascinating to me as biological systems have evolved for distinct reasons (the “initial and boundary conditions” are different). In addition, as an engineer, I truly am interested in building new systems from the knowledge that we obtain in a similar thought process as we use information to build new machines. Thus, I will also present how our lab thinks about nature-inspired design principles at the molecular and cellular levels to work toward generating novel approaches for contributing to technology development and medical applications. My goal for this talk is to present some of our work and thoughts about how one mechanical engineer approaches these nature-based systems at the cellular and molecular levels.