Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Christopher Yakacki received a 2014 National Science Foundation CAREER Award. Yakacki’s CAREER award project, “A Two-Stage Processing Approach to Shape-Switching Liquid-Crystalline Elastomers for Biomedical Applications,” is a five-year investigation into the development of a reaction mechanism to tailor and manufacture liquid-crystalline elastomers (LCEs) for biomedical applications.
LCEs are a class of smart polymers that can repeatedly change shape and optical properties in response to a stimulus, such as heat or light. Traditionally, LCEs have been difficult to synthesize and manufacture for applications such as biomedical devices. This CAREER award is to investigate a new approach and reaction mechanism to tailor and manufacture these materials for biomedical applications, specifically shape-changing biomedical devices.
Yakacki’s CAREER award will also serve to create summer workshops for local high school students, which will give them a hands-on experience in how smart polymers can be used in biomedical applications. Using this new technology, Yakacki will apply his teaching and industry experience to design and develop interference devices for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, which also illustrates how the fields of mechanical engineering, materials science, and bioengineering can combine. He hopes to show that engineering isn’t a confined area of study, and that although there are individual degree programs, engineers often solve problems using an interdisciplinary approach. Through this endeavor, Yakacki wants to give students a better look at how a college education can lead to unique, real-world opportunities and experiences.