Brown Engineering researchers create nanopatch for the heart

Engineers at Brown University and in India have a promising new approach to treating heart-attack victims. The researchers created a nanopatch with carbon nanofibers and a polymer. In laboratory tests, natural heart-tissue cell density on the nanoscaffold was six times greater than the control sample, while neuron density had doubled. Results are published in Acta Biomaterialia. 
PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — When you suffer a heart attack, a part of your heart dies. Nerve cells in the heart's  wall and a special class of cells that spontaneously expand and contract – keeping the heart beating in perfect synchronicity – are lost forever. Surgeons can’t repair the affected area. It’s as if when confronted with a road riddled with potholes, you abandon what’s there and build a new road instead.
Needless to say, this is a grossly inefficient way to treat arguably the single most important organ in the human body. The best approach would be to figure out how to resuscitate the deadened area, and in this quest, a group of researchers at Brown University and in India may have an answer.
The scientists turned to nanotechnology. In a lab, they built a scaffold-looking structure consisting of carbon nanofibers and a government-approved polymer. Tests showed the synthetic nanopatch regenerated natural heart tissue cells ­– called cardiomyocytes – as well as neurons. In short, the tests showed that a dead region of the heart can be brought back to life.
“This whole idea is to put something where dead tissue is to help regenerate it, so that you eventually have a healthy heart,” said David Stout, a graduate student in the School of Engineering at Brown and the lead author of the paper published in Acta Biomaterialia.
David Stout, engineering graduate student at Brown UniversityThe approach, if successful, would help millions of people. In 2009, some 785,000 Americans suffered a new heart attack linked to weakness caused by the scarred cardiac muscle from a previous heart attack, according to the American Heart Association. Just as ominously, a third of women and a fifth of men who have experienced a heart attack will have another one within six years, the researchers added, citing the American Heart Association.
What is unique about the experiments at Brown and at the India Institute of Technology Kanpur is the engineers employed carbon nanofibers, helical-shaped tubes with diameters between 60 and 200 nanometers. The carbon nanofibers work well because they are excellent conductors of electrons, performing the kind of electrical connections the heart relies upon for keeping a steady beat. The researchers stitched the nanofibers together using a poly lactic-co-glycolic acid polymer to form a mesh about 22 millimeters long and 15 microns thick and resembling “a black Band Aid,” Stout said. They laid the mesh on a glass substrate to test whether cardiomyocytes would colonize the surface and grow more cells.
In tests with the 200-nanometer-diameter carbon nanofibers seeded with cardiomyocytes, five times as many heart-tissue cells colonized the surface after four hours than with a control sample consisting of the polymer only. After five days, the density of the surface was six times greater than the control sample, the researchers reported. Neuron density had also doubled after four days, they added.
The scaffold works because it is elastic and durable, and can thus expand and contract much like heart tissue, said Thomas Webster, associate professor in engineering and orthopaedics at Brown and the corresponding author on the paper. It’s because of these properties and the carbon nanofibers that cardiomyocytes and neurons congregate on the scaffold and spawn new cells, in effect regenerating the area.
The scientists want to tweak the scaffold pattern to better mimic the electrical current of the heart, as well as build an in-vitro model to test how the material reacts to the heart’s voltage and beat regime. They also want to make sure the cardiomyocytes that grow on the scaffolds are endowed with the same abilities as other heart-tissue cells.
Bikramjit Basu at the India Institute of Technology Kanpur contributed to the paper. The Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum, the Hermann Foundation, the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, the government of India and California State University funded the research.

General Motors to Provide $2 Million to Brown to Continue Collaborative Research Laboratory on Computational Materials Science for Next 5 Years

Providence, RI - General Motors will provide $2 million in funding to Brown to continue the GM/Brown Collaborative Research Laboratory on Computational Materials Science for the next five years. The laboratory for computational materials research at Brown University is one of several collaborative research laboratories General Motors has established worldwide to accelerate the pace of innovation in strategic technology areas. The GM/Brown collaboration has existed for about the past ten years.

The goal of the laboratory is to develop computer simulations that predict the mechanical properties of materials used in automotive applications, and to use these simulations to help General Motors to develop materials with enhanced performance.  The computations are guided and verified by experiments.  Over the next five years, the laboratory will continue to focus on the development of lightweight materials, an increasingly important topic for all automotive subsystems because it is a key enabler for developing more energy efficient products.

"The CRL is a unique opportunity for Brown students and faculty to work with one of the best industrial research labs in the world," said Allan Bower, co-director of the CRL.  "By partnering with GM, we can make sure that the latest advances in computer simulation of material behavior are being used to help reduce vehicle weight and improve fuel economy."

Notable achievements of the laboratory include the development of multi-scale simulation methods to predict the influence of chemical composition on the rate sensitivity of aluminum alloys; improved modeling of the behavior of aluminum during forming and of the microstructure evolution in aluminum-silicon alloys; development and experimental validation of computer simulation methods to predict constitutive behavior and microstructure evolution in aluminum alloys; and the development of wear resistant diamond coatings.

At Brown, the lab is led by professor Allan Bower (co-director) and at General Motors, the co-director is Mark Verbrugge. Together, the two co-directors plan the work of the Collaborative Research Lab.

For further information, please see

The Most Influential Schools of Engineering on Twitter - Brown is No. 1

Which school of engineering has the most Klout? Engineering schools are tech-savvy, but which has the best managed Twitter account and is engaging with alumni, media and friends on Twitter. 

For the uninitiated, Klout score is a measurement of your overall online influence and ranges from 1 to 100. Klout uses over 35 variables to measure true reach (the size of your engaged audience), amplification probability (the likelihood that your messages will generate actions), and network score (how influential your engaged audience is).

Not surprisingly, some of the universities that top the academic rankings are also among the best at social media. Here’s the breakdown of the top ten:

 47 Brown University School of Engineering
2.  46 Stanford University Engineering 
3.  42 University of Wisconsin-Madison Engineering
4.  40 Iowa State University College of Engineering 
5.  40 Virginia Tech University Engineering
6.  39 University of Michigan Engineering 
 39 Olin College 
8.  38 Ohio State University Engineering 
9.  37 Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
10.  37 University of Washington Engineering 


Professor Huajian Gao to Receive 2011 Charles Russ Richards Memorial Award from ASME

Huajian Gao, Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Engineering at Brown University,  has been selected to receive the 2011 Charles Russ Richards Memorial Award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) for outstanding achievements in mechanical engineering 20 years or more following graduation. Formal presentation of the award is scheduled to take place during the ASME International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition, to be held in Denver, Colorado, from November 11-17, 2011.

The award, established in 1944 by Pi Tau Sigma in coordination with ASME, honors Charles Russ Richards, founder of Pi Tau Sigma at the University of Illinois, former head of mechanical engineering and dean of engineering at the University of Illinois and later president of Lehigh University. He was a member of ASME and served on its Board of Governors. 

Professor Gao received his B.S. degree from Xian Jiaotong University of China in 1982, and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Engineering Science from Harvard University in 1984 and 1988, respectively. He served on the faculty of Stanford University between 1988 and 2002, where he was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 1994 and to full professor in 2000. He was appointed as Director and Professor at the Max Planck Institute for Metals Research in Stuttgart, Germany between 2001 and 2006. He joined Brown University in 2006. Professor Gao has a background in applied mechanics and engineering science. He has more than 20 years of research experience with 200+ publications.

Professor Gao's research group is generally interested in understanding the basic principles that control mechanical properties and behaviors of both engineering and biological systems. His current research includes studies of how metallic and semiconductor materials behave in thin film and nanocrystalline forms, and how biological materials such as bones, geckos, and cells achieve their mechanical robustness through structural hierarchy.

Kristie Chin '11 Named To Capital One Academic All-District Team

Kristie Chin '11, a civil engineering and architectural studies dual concentrator, as well as a standout softball player was recognized for her combination of academic and athletic excellence.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The 2011 Capital One Academic All-District softball teams, selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA), have been released to recognize the nation's top student-athletes for the their combined performance on the field and in the classroom. Senior pitcher Kristie Chin (Katy, Texas) was a second team selection for District I. 

A second-team All-Ivy selection last season, Chin led the 2011 Bears with 12 wins, 30 appearances, 23 starts, 19 complete games, two shutouts and 83 strikeouts in 172.2 innings pitched from the circle. The senior also batted .293 over 58 at-bats, racking up eight runs, three doubles and four RBI.

Chin, a civil engineering and architectural studies major, boasts 3.60 GPA. 

Janet Blume wins Karen T. Romer Award for Excellence in Advising

Janet Blume, associate professor of engineering and director of undergraduate programs for the School of Engineering, has been chosen this year to receive the Karen T. Romer Award for excellence in advising. Blume was recognized with the formal presentation of the award on Monday, May 2, at the Teaching Awards Ceremony organized by the Sheridan Center. 

This award was instituted several years ago thanks to a generous gift from the family of Brown trustee Marty Granoff. The purpose is to recognize faculty who have shown exceptional dedication, imagination, and commitment in their mentoring of undergraduates. The students who nominated Professor Blume this year (and in past years) praised her work as an advisor in ways that were truly inspiring.

Originally from Long Island, Professor Blume got her bachelor of science in engineering degree from Princeton University in 1982, followed by a Ph.D. in applied mechanics from the California Institute of Technology in 1986. She immediately joined the faculty in engineering at Brown as a member of the mechanics of solids and structures group, doing research in the mathematical issues in the behavior of solids undergoing large deformations.

Professor Blume has taught many engineering courses in the mechanical and civil engineering areas at all levels of the graduate and undergraduate curricula. She often teaches including both introductory engineering classes, EN 3 and EN4. She advises research theses at all levels.

Professor Blume is actively involved in engineering outreach and leads several programs aimed at bringing engineering topics into math and science education at the pre-college level.

Brown Students Win for Third Consecutive Year at RI Business Plan Competition

warshayBrown professor Danny Warshay's Entrepreneurship & New Ventures ENGN1930x course has translated into great success for students in the Rhode Island Business Plan Competition over the past three years. This year's winner in the student track were Dan Aziz '11, Gordon Hood '11, William Do '12, and Kuni Natsuki '11 who developed the plan for PriWater, a prenatal beverage supplement to help reduce birth defects. Last year, Warshay’s students won with Speramus (, an online fundraising platform that matches donors with individual support opportunities. The year before, they won with Runa (, a company that produces energy drinks made from the leaves of an Amazonian tree. Runa continues to make excellent progress and has raised over $1 million from investors and has increased distribution into WholeFoods.

Here is the Providence Journal recap of the event:

3 business plans recognized by RIBX competition


01:00 AM EDT on Wednesday, May 4, 2011
By Kate Bramson

Journal Staff Writer
PROVIDENCE — Their entrepreneurship professor told the three Brown University undergraduates to think big, and he urged them to get out and talk to the people who would eventually use the product they dreamed of developing in his class.
“Danny preaches bottom-up research,” said senior Robert D. [Dan] Aziz about Prof. Danny Warshay, who has taught the class each of his five years at Brown.
As his students began crafting an idea for a prenatal beverage supplement to give pregnant women the vitamins they need without the nasty side effects of large prenatal pills, junior William Do went to the Whole Foods Market on North Main Street and started chatting with a pregnant woman. She told him women have what they call “horse pills,” but no drink supplement.
Warshay said his students then spoke with 150 pregnant women before developing what they call PriWater. The supplement is designed to reduce birth defects, the reason for prenatal pills.
As Aziz presented the group’s product idea Tuesday in the Rhode Island Business Plan Competition at RIBX 2011, he told a crowd of more than 100 what their research revealed. Only 45 percent of pregnant women take prenatal pills because they’re hard to digest and cause constipation and nausea.
“Overall, women hate them, and if you’re a man, you should just try it for your wife,” Aziz said, drawing laughter as he spoke with ease. “We talk about destroying the horse pill forever.”
The judges of the annual competition agreed that Aziz, Do and Gordon Hood have a good idea. PriWater took the top prize in the student track –– $25,000 in cash and $28,000 in services.
It’s the third year in a row Warshay’s students have walked off with the top student prize at the competition, which attracted 103 applications this year, up from 61 last year.
Their project drew praise from one of the competition’s judges, Stephen Lane, president of Ximedica and a member of the state Economic Development Corporation board.
“We need to mint him,” Lane said of Warshay.
Last year, Warshay’s students won with Speramus, an online fundraising platform that matches donors with individual support opportunities. The year before, they won with Runa, a company that produces energy drinks made from the leaves of an Amazonian tree.
Winning the biggest prize in this year’s competition was AmbiLabs, a Warren company that makes systems to monitor air pollution. Named the “green” winner, AmbiLabs won $50,000 in cash and $26,000 in services.
“I’m astounded that we won,” General Manager Andy Tolley said, noting the “fantastic” field of finalists.
At a reception for winners and finalists, Tolley said the reason AmbiLabs entered the competition was to see if others believed in their idea.
Tolley said his company’s work is gaining traction. The Army recently contacted AmbiLabs about its devices, and the company just took an order to provide a pollution-monitoring device in Saudi Arabia, its first international order.
The third winner — this one in the entrepreneur track — was Lucidux, a Providence venture led by East Providence resident Jason Harry. Lucidux, which also won $25,000 in cash and $28,000 in services, is developing software to provide three-dimensional images to help surgeons perform minimally invasive procedures.
Harry told how Lucidux is working to revolutionize what surgeons see with cameras inserted into patients, essentially eliminating what he calls “one-eyed surgery.”

Brown Professor Alan Needleman will receive the 2011 Timoshenko Medal

Alan Needleman,  emeritus professor of engineering at Brown, will receive the 2011 Timoshenko Medal.
Alan Needleman has been a leading innovator in developing the mechanics of large plastic deformation and  fracture.  His career has been intertwined with the rise of the field of computational solid mechanics.  To this field he has made many significant and lasting contributions, usually as the first to demonstrate that computational approaches are both feasible and likely to yield insight.
Needleman performed the first finite element calculations of void growth and coalescence (in early 1970's), of necking in tensile bars (in 1972), of debonding using models which embed cohesive zones (in 1983), and ductile crack growth using models which simulate void nucleation, growth and coalescence (in the early 80's). There are more major contributions. He was one of the first to perform accurate numerical computation of the development of shear band localizations in realistic geometries, and the pictures of emerging bands which came out of the studies where widely regarded as "classics". He has simulated crack growth patterns, including bifurcation and branching, in the dynamic fracture of brittle materials. Most recently, he originated and still drives the effort to develop computational methods to predict macroscopic stress-strain behavior based on discrete dislocation mechanics. In all these cases, his primary contribution has been to lead the way and to demonstrate the feasibility and power of computational approaches to the particular phenomenon.
Needleman is ranked among the most highly cited researchers worldwide, in both the engineering and materials science categories. He served as Dean of Engineering at Brown University, and on the Executive Committee of the Applied Mechanics Division of ASME. He is a member of the US National Academy of Engineering.  
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