Kris Billiar Named John Woodman Higgins Professor of Biomedical Engineering



Kris Billiar, biomedical engineering professor and Department Head, has been named the John Woodman Higgins 


Kristen Billliar

Professor of Biomedical Engineering.

This professorship honors the memory of John Woodman Higgins, son of Milton Prince Higgins. The first superintendent of the Washburn Shops, Milton Prince Higgins was a foundational figure in establishing the “practice” side of WPI’s blend of theory and practice. WPI established this professorship in 1988 in gratitude for the 31 years of service that Milton P. Higgins II devoted to WPI as a member of its board of trustees.  

Billiar earned a BS from Cornell University, and a MSE and PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. His research focuses on understanding the mechanisms by which mechanical forces regulate the development and healing of connective tissues and the pathogenesis of disease, which is becoming one of the foremost problems at the intersection of biomechanics and cell biology and spawning the field of mechanobiology. In Billiar’s lab, researchers use precisely engineered, two-dimensional and three-dimensional constructs as model systems to study the effects of external internal (cell-generated) forces on cell behavior, matrix biochemistry, and the biomechanics of soft tissues and biomaterials. They have developed many innovative systems to modulate the cells’ mechanical environment by applying external multiaxial strain fields, creating compliant tissue boundary conditions, and controlling the surrounding matrix stiffness. They also study the mechanics of soft tissue for augmentation and repair. To date, tissue systems studied include skin, heart valves, coronary and carotid arteries, myocardium, lung, small intestinal submucosa, and sternum.

At the undergraduate level, Billiar enjoys relating the fundamentals of biomechanics to students both in the classroom and through authentic laboratory experiences, mentoring students in the lab, and advising capstone design teams. At the graduate level, he enjoys seeing his doctoral and master’s students transform into independent researchers, teaching tissue mechanics and tissue engineering, and writing grant proposals.

“For almost a decade now, Professor Billiar has led the Biomedical Engineering Department through a period of dynamic growth in both student enrollment and research productivity,” says John McNeill, the Bernard M. Gordon Dean of WPI’s School of Engineering. “Recognition with WPI’s Exemplary Faculty Award in 2021 demonstrates Professor Billiar’s success in leading a world-class research program in tissue mechanics and mechanobiology, as well as driving innovative pedagogy. Additionally, he has been tireless in advocating for diversity, equity, and belonging in making WPI a more inclusive community.”