Megan Valentine

Megan Valentine

U.S. Department of State’s flagship Fulbright Program, which facilitates international exchange between scholars, selected UC Santa Barbara mechanical engineering Professor Megan Valentine to receive a Fulbright Scholar Award on December 22, announced in a press release by UCSB on April 27.

As part of the program, Valentine will research soft material sciences at ESPCI ParisTech, a physics and chemistry college, in the fall of 2015 with ESPCI ParisTech materials science professor Costantino Creton.

Valentine joined the Mechanical Engineering Department in 2008, after earning a Ph.D. in physics at Harvard University and completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University in the Biological Sciences Department. Valentine’s studies in soft materials research focuses on how forces are generated and transmitted in living materials, and how these forces control cellular outcomes.

Valentine said one goal of her research is to pave the way for women and underrepresented students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (S.T.E.M.) fields through teaching and outreach.

“The outstanding record of ESPCI ParisTech in the recruitment and retention of women to S.T.E.M. fields was one of the many attractions in selecting it, and France, for my sabbatical,” Valentine said. “I hope to return to UCSB with a better understanding of how the French educational system engages and supports female students, and suggestions for how the U.S. system could be improved.”

Mechanical Engineering Department Chair Francesco Bullo said Valentine’s research makes important strides in addressing problems posed in the medical field.

“Dr. Valentine is an extremely productive and talented researcher,” Bullo said. “Her project, ‘Creating tough, fatigue-resistant materials, inspired by nature,’ leverages her expertise in biological systems and protein engineering while tackling important new problems in materials research, specifically bio-inspired self-healing materials.”

According to Valentine, the materials in her study operate similarly to the technology in bike helmets, which employ a “controlled collapse” of a foamy core to absorb impact energy and protect our skulls.

“My focus is on developing materials that can dissipate energy during loading through the controlled breakage of sacrificial bonds,” Valentine said. “This approach of toughening by weakening is not new … but the work proposed here goes further by incorporating reversible bonding schemes that allow the sacrificial bonds to reform when the load is removed, thus allowing the materials to ‘heal.’”

Valentine said her research builds upon previous studies in producing improved adhesives and drug transportation vehicles, working toward a deeper understanding of the properties of living materials in synthetic systems.

“I am particularly excited about biomedical applications and the development of materials for use in artificial heart valves, vascular grafts and joint repair,” Valentine said.

Bullo said Valentine’s research will also allow for a continuing relationship with ESPCI ParisTech.

“Her selection as a Fulbright awardee recognizes the excellence of her scholarship and her contributions to education and science,” Bullo said. “I am extremely proud of her accomplishments and look forward to the increased interactions with ESPCI ParisTech facilitated by this award.”

First-year mechanical engineering major Ryan Tsukamoto said materials research can be applied to many aspects of science, engineering and biomedical processes.

“I believe that investigation of living materials will provide valuable insight to not only medicine but all fields of science and engineering,” Tsukamoto said. “A better understanding of how living structures interact will definitely enhance medical diagnosis and treatment methods.”

Valentine said collaborating with Creton’s research group will allow her to broaden her expertise in biomaterials and protein

“I will also introduce the Creton group to the novel measurement tools that my group has developed for materials testing, in particular our suite of customized ‘magnetic tweezers’ tools which allow the application of very local forces to soft materials for spatially-resolved materials characterization,” Valentine said. “I also hope that my stay in Paris leads to long-term,

fruitful collaborations between ESPCI and UCSB.”

A version of this story appeared on page 7 of the Thursday, April 30, 2015 print edition of the Daily Nexus.

[Correction: A version of this story said “Valentine’s studies in soft materials research primarily involve the production of man-made materials”, however Valentine’s studies focus on living systems and the previous is true only for her research with the Fulbright Scholarship. The article also incorrectly stated Valentine received the award on April 27 when she was notified of her selection on December 22. The article has been updated accordingly.]