Prof.Christine Ortiz on Nanomechanics

Biological materials, such as musculoskeletal and exoskeletal tissues, have developed amazingly complex, hierarchical, heterogeneous nanostructures over millions of years of evolution in order to function properly under the mechanical loads they experience in their environment. The Ortiz research group studies these fascinating materials using expertise in the new field of "nanomechanics"; i.e. the measurement and prediction of extremely small forces within and between nanoscale constituents in order to determine the local origins of macroscopic physical phenomena. Novel experimental and theoretical methods are employed (see Table below) in order to probe and understand fundamental nanoscale surface, bio-, and polymer physics mechanisms and design principles; i.e. how they work in tandem and what universal laws they follow to achieve a particular function.A quad-tiered approach is taken to achieve this goal which includes; nanomechanics of single cells and their pericellular matrix, individual molecules, biomimetic model systems, and in-tact tissue-level properties.

The scientific foundation being formed has relevance to both the medical and engineering fields. Nanotechnological methods applied to the field of musculoskeletal tissues and tissue engineering hold great promise for significant and rapid advancements towards tissue repair and/or replacement, improved treatments, and possibly even a cure for people afflicted with diseases such as osteoarthritis. In addition, the discovery of new nanoscale design principles and energy-dissipating mechanisms will enable the production of improved and increasingly advanced biologically-inspired structural engineering materials that exhibit "mechanical property amplification" - that is, dramatic improvements in mechanical properties (e.g. increases in strength and toughness) for a material relative to its constituents.

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