To optimize the strength of materials and structures used in biomedical applications, one must apply the principles of mechanics. This can become a challenging task in these multiphysics settings, says Lindsey Smith, a second year doctoral student in civil engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Smith is a member of the NanoBio IGERT with the Institute for NanoBioTechnology. Funded by the National Science Foundation, IGERT stands for Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship.
Smith’s interest in structures and engineering blossomed after taking a high school introductory course on the topic. “I was always strong in math and science,“ she says. “I also was fascinated with architecture and large buildings.“ Smith graduated in 2003 from Columbia University with a major in Engineering Mechanics, which she describes as the study of the application of mechanics to civil engineering.
Since optimization is among her research interests, she has found a research home in the lab of INBT affiliated faculty member Jamie Guest, an assistant professor of civil engineering who is focused on studying ways to generate new ultimate shapes for material microstructures.
“Composite materials have been designed somewhat by trial and error,“ Smith says. “Designers have an intuitive sense of how to arrange fibers in a matrix to make the material as strong as possible. The Guest Lab is coming up with computational algorithms for determining exactly where those fibers should be. These algorithms would determine the structure at the microscale to make a material mathematically optimal for a desired performance property, such as stiffness or conductivity.“
Her co-advisers include INBT affiliated faculty member Ben Schafer, associate professor of civil engineering, and INBT associate director Denis Wirtz, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. Smith will be a fully participating member of their labs as well.
So far, she says, her biggest challenge has been learning the biology needed for her multidisciplinary nanobio training. Reading papers from disciplines outside her area of expertise through INBT’s Journal Club has helped. “The Journal Club is great,“ she says. “There is a group of us, and we are all at different levels so we are helping each other out.“
Raised in Poughkeepsie, New York, Smith is an outdoor enthusiast, accomplished climber and college rugby player. Beyond her interest in engineering, Smith says she would be happiest if she could spend most of her time outside.