Professor Krystyn Van Vliet’s group studies material chemomechanics: material behavior at the interface of mechanics, chemistry, physics, and biology. She focuses on thermodynamically metastable surfaces and interfaces, in which stress-assisted chemical reaction kinetics are notoriously difficult to analyze via either experiment or simulation. The mechanisms of this coupling in cell-material interactions are not fully understood, due to both biological complexity and lack of appropriate experimental and computational tools, but are key to design of materials that modulate cell adhesion for drug uptake and differentiation. Her long-term goal is to predict and modulate key functions of biological cells by drawing analogies to the coupled chemical/mechanical behavior of structurally simpler, nonbiological material interfaces and nanocomposites. Her group has used this interdisciplinary application of mechanical and chemical forces to rapidly map environment-structure-property relations in engineered materials, and to predict the binding kinetics of individual molecules on living cells. These studies have shown that the stiffness of materials to which molecular ligands are tethered can directly affect kinetics of ligand-receptor interactions at cell surfaces.
Professor Van Vliet was the Michael (1949) and Sonja Koerner Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, the associate vice president for research, and the associate provost at MIT until October, 2022; she is now vice president for research and innovation at Cornell University, where she has a joint appointment in materials science and engineering and the Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering.
She received a BS in materials engineering from Brown University in 1998, and a PhD in materials engineering from MIT in 2002. During her tenure with DMSE, Professor Van Vliet served as the faculty supervisor of the DMSE Nanomechanical Technology Laboratory, co-developed new undergraduate core classes, and implemented new programs to retain underrepresented minority students.