Dr. Kai-Tak Wan, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Missouri-Rolla, recently received a CAREER grant from the Nano and Bio Mechanics program of the National Science Foundation for his research into the mechanical characterization of eye lenses and single cell characterization.
The CAREER award is the NSF’s most prestigious award for new faculty members. The CAREER program recognizes and supports the early career development of teacher-scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century. Recipients are selected on the basis of creative career development plans that effectively integrate research and teaching.
Wan will receive $400,495 from NSF over a five-year period to study “Interfacing and Integrating Life-Sciences and Solid-Mechanics.”
One important application of this research could help cataract sufferers. Cataracts occur when the normally clear ocular lens in an eye becomes cloudy. As the cataract progresses, a person’s vision becomes blurrier, requiring surgery to replace the lens.
Wan and Dr. Nathan Ravi, director of ophthalmology for Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Barnes Jewish Hospital, are using lenses from pigs and human cadavers to characterize the force needed to stretch lenses and allow for the maximum range of focus. The same technique is also used to characterize prosthetic lenses.
“The natural lens has an onion-like structure with layers of arch-like fibers,” Wan explains. “These layers deform in concert to accommodate focusing on objects.”
Once the lens is replaced, a patient’s focus is fixed because an artificial lens is less flexible than a natural lens and limits the range of focus.
“After surgery, patients need to wear glasses to correct their vision, either for nearsightedness or farsightedness,” Wan adds.
The study of the mechanical behavior of lenses has significant impact on other eye problems, including presbyopia, a condition that occurs when the eye gradually loses its ability to change focus from distance to near.
Wan will also study the mechanical adhesion of individual mesenchymal stem cells into tissues. The work will have significant impact on artificial insemination, embryology, developmental biology and prosthetic tissue engineering.
Prior to joining UMR in 2002, Wan served as visiting professor of engineering science and mechanics at Virginia Tech.
Wan received a Ph.D. in chemical physics from the University of Maryland in 1993 and a bachelor of science degree in applied physics from the University of New South Wales in Australia in 1987. His research interests include cellular biomechanics, mechanical behavior of nano-structures, and reliability, adhesion and delamination of thin film encapsulated electronics packages.