Kristen L. Billiar, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to work at the National University of Ireland Galway on research and education related to tissue engineering. Billiar, who will be in Ireland for the 2009-10 academic year, is the 14th member of the current WPI faculty to be awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant.
The Fulbright Program, the U.S. government's flagship program in international educational exchange, is sponsored by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Each year, the traditional Fulbright Scholar Program sends 800 U.S. faculty members and other professionals abroad to lecture and conduct research in a wide variety of academic and professional fields.
"This significant honor is further evidence of the high quality of the WPI faculty and the important work they are doing through their research and scholarship," said John A. Orr, WPI's provost and senior vice president. "This particular Fulbright Scholarship, the first for a current WPI researcher in the life sciences, is especially exciting as it demonstrates the value of the investment the university has made in research in this field in recent years, including the construction of the $50 million Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center at Gateway Park."
During his stay in Ireland, Billiar will study the mechanics of nanoscale scaffolds for tissue engineering with Dr. Abhay Pandit, Director of the Network of Excellence for Functional Biomaterials. Developing a detailed understanding of the relationship between the structure and mechanical functioning of connective tissue is critical to building engineered replacements for diseased tissue. In the research component of his Fulbright work, Billiar will seek to develop novel techniques for probing these relationships at the scale or nanometers, particularly as they relate to the scaffolds, or support structures, used in tissue engineering. He will also design inquiry-based biomechanics and biomaterials teaching laboratories based on these techniques and then compile them into a textbook.
Billiar joined the WPI faculty in 2002, after receiving a PhD in bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania and working as a staff engineer at Organogenesis Inc. In his research he studies how the mechanical forces due to tissue stretching and cell contraction affect the growth and healing of soft tissue. His goal is to help make engineered skin, heart valves, and other tissues behave more naturally and reduce scarring during healing. His work has been supported by the Whittaker Foundation and the American Heart Association. In 2005, he received WPI's Romeo Moruzzi Young Faculty Award for Innovation in Undergraduate Education for developing a formal mentoring system to meet the challenge of providing experiential learning opportunities for students in his laboratory courses. H received the Trustee's Award for Academic Advising in 2008.