This Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award will explore the role that bacterial biofilm mechanics play in the quarter of a million medical device infections experienced by Americans each year. Research outcomes will include: (1) a fundamental understanding of bacterial biofilm mechanics and (2) establishment of improved biocompatibility criteria. This knowledge will ultimately be used to reduce medical device infections. The new biofilm mechanics knowledge produced by this work will inform the ability to control biofilm accumulation and dispersal. Therefore, the research outcomes will also impact many industries beyond medicine including the maritime, food, water, oil, paper, and aerospace industries. Beyond the laboratory, this work will cultivate a diverse workforce at the intersection of engineering and medicine through a PI-designed initiative, “Newton’s Team”. Newton’s Team will equip mechanics instructors in higher education with new hands-on active learning activities that reduce perceived implementation barriers. Faculty from a wide variety of institutions (research intensive, primarily undergraduate, engineering focused, public and private, Hispanic-serving institutions, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities) will participate in the project by incorporating the new learning activities into their classrooms and providing their educational insights across the network.

This work harnesses experimental thin film mechanics to investigate an imminent biological adhesion challenge. Research activities will critically assess the influence of biofilm mechanics on device infections in three ways: (1) by extracting the dominant parameters that promote strong biofilm adhesion, which will aid in establishing a novel Adhesion Index – a ratio of mammalian cell adhesion to biofilm adhesion, (2) by exploring biofilm deformability, and (3) by generating new information on the mesh size of biofilms. Armed with this knowledge, the field of pharmacology can more accurately construct diffusion models relevant for next generation drug delivery vehicles designed to maneuver through confined networks like biofilms. Additionally, the Adhesion Index will provide new target values with which to engineer implant surfaces. Project innovation stems from new approaches to probe biofilm accumulation through a suite of advanced characterization techniques which include laser spallation, combined confocal laser scanning microscopy and atomic force microscopy, and particle mobility assays. These contributions will elucidate the role of mechanics (adhesion, deformation, confinement) in the perceived threat level of a biofilm, which will allow the PI to establish her career in applied mechanics.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Kentucky
United States
Zip Code