Kristen L. Billiar, associate professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), has been elected a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Only about 2 percent of ASME's more 130,000 worldwide members have attained the fellow grade.
The first biomedical engineering professor at WPI to receive this honor, Billiar, who has an appointment as an adjunct associate professor of surgery at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, has also been named to the executive board of ASME's Bioengineering Division and appointed an associate editor for ASME's Journal of Biomechanical Engineering.
Billiar joined the WPI faculty in 2002 after receiving a PhD in bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania and working as a staff engineer at Organogenesis Inc. As the director of WPI's Tissue Mechanics and Mechanobiology Laboratory, he studies how mechanical signals affect basic cell functions and influence such biological processes as tissue development, repair, and disease. In particular, he investigates the influence of the local mechanical environment (including the forces associated with tissue stretching and cell contraction) on the growth, development, and healing of soft connective tissues. Among his goals is the development of bioartificial tissues and regenerated tissues that behave like natural tissue and to reduce scarring when tissues heal.
Billiar and his team also study the biomechanics of fracture fixation devices (particularly those used to stabilize a fractured sternum) to determine optimal methods for bone healing. His work has been supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Army, the Whittaker Foundation, and the American Heart Association.
In 2005, Billiar received WPI's Romeo Moruzzi Young Faculty Award for Innovation in Undergraduate Education for developing a formal mentoring system to meet the challenge of providing experiential learning opportunities for students in his laboratory courses. He received the Trustee’s Award for Academic Advising in 2008. In 2009 he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to work at the National University of Ireland Galway on research and education related to tissue engineering.