Bold research drives intersections of biomedical systems, mechanics
Vikas Srivastava recently joined the Brown School of Engineering and Center for Biomedical Engineering as an assistant professor. Srivastava’s background is in solid mechanics and mechanics of materials.
“I was educated as a mechanical engineer,” said Vikas Srivastava. “My Ph.D. research at MIT was on amorphous polymers and shape memory polymers.” He has applied this work to biomedical engineering applications: “One particular biomedical application that I modeled during my Ph.D. was a shape memory polymer-based arterial stent.”
Following his Ph.D., Srivastava worked as Mechanics Team Lead and Senior Technical Professional Advisor in the area of mechanics of materials at ExxonMobil Upstream Research. There, he worked on using fluid and solid mechanics fundamentals to solve critical problems in energy. “After seeing the applications of mechanics in a very diverse range of problems, I realized the significant potential my research background and expertise could have when applied to problems in biomedical engineering. This drove my decision to join the exciting research program at Brown.”
Srivastava emphasizes the importance of perseverance as a researcher. “For experiments not to work out in a research environment is very common, it happens quite often,” he said. “I’ve experienced it, both personally and among my fellow colleagues. It is natural and perfectly okay for experiments not to work out because sometimes it teaches us more than success and can give us new research directions.”
For experiments not to work out in a research environment is very common, it happens quite often. I’ve experienced it, both personally and among my fellow colleagues. It is natural and perfectly okay for experiments not to work out because sometimes it teaches us more than success and can give us new research directions.
In the area of soft materials with potential applications to biomedicine, Srivastava is most proud of one of his papers from his Ph.D. work in the Journal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids, which details experiments, theoretical modeling, and simulations of thermally actuated shape memory polymers. “Thermally actuated shape memory polymers are polymers that can be squished or twisted or bent into a variety of new shapes and then when heated will go back to their original shape,” he explained. “While shape memory polymers have been known for decades, several exciting biomedical applications have been demonstrated recently.” However, many of these applications are a result of trial and error rather than a detailed understanding of the polymers’ molecular behavior and how this behavior leads to their time and temperature dependent mechanical response. “The mathematical modeling and numerical simulation method that we developed will allow for people to more accurately design complex shape memory polymer-based technologies,” said Srivastava.
He tries to teach his graduate students to think both creatively and critically. “I like my graduate students to have bold research ideas and expect members of my lab to play a leading role in shaping their research directions.” For undergraduates interested in graduate school, he advises them to try out a variety of research experiences. “Join undergraduate research opportunities in different labs to understand which research topic really interests you, with the goal of understanding what area you’re really passionate about for your future graduate level research. Try out an industrial internship as well. These experiences can help solidify your interest in graduate school and teach you the practical importance of your research.”
Srivastava is excited to focus on interdisciplinary research topics: “The topics that are of interest to my research group lie at the intersection of problems which firstly can improve human lives through biomedical systems and materials research and secondly where mechanics or physics plays an important role. We are interested in developing new medical devices and early disease detection and treatment systems.” He hopes to explore work with other labs both within and outside of engineering at Brown. “One thing I’m quite excited about is developing many collaborations with my Brown University colleagues, both within and outside the School of Engineering including our world-class medical school.”