Innovative work on a new type of heart stent sensor is earning Nakhiah Goulbourne, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award of $400,000.

The focus of Goulbourne’s research is the development of specific models and experiments to describe what happens to a human artery equipped with a stent that has a unique type of in situ polymer strain-sensing device.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, half of the over one million Americans who have heart attacks each year are fatal; stent deployment within hours of the incident can be lifesaving. A coronary stent or elastic tube implant is a permanent insert placed in the artery to act as a scaffold to keep the artery open and allow proper cardiovascular flow.

As Goulbourne explained, she is interested in this research because the percentage of stent implant failures is as high as 20 to 30 percent. Also, there is a lack of diagnostic tools to dynamically monitor the mechanical state of the stented artery.

Understanding the integration of stent/artery mechanics, post-implant phenomena, and new measurement techniques in difficult to access locations, such as the human body’s cardiovascular system, is crucial to their proper and optimal application, Goulbourne added.

Goulbourne’s National Science Foundation project is titled "Multiphysics Modeling and Experiments for Pulsatile Membrane Sensors."

A National Science Foundation CAREER award also allows the recipient to focus on education and outreach. Goulbourne plans to use her CAREER award to work with middle school children.

She explained, “A part of my program will be dedicated to the development of an annual summer Girls in Engineering, Mathematic,s and Science (GEMS) workshop for approximately 20 girls from four schools in grades 9 and 10 in Jamaica, where I grew up. I am especially pleased and am very much looking forward to working with my alma mater, Wolmer's High School for Girls. The main goals of the workshop is to mentor, provide role models, and expose the underrepresented majority of women to the exciting and challenging field of engineering and science.”

In the Girls in Engineering, Mathematics, and Science workshop, she will be working with her colleagues Karen Thole and Michael Alley of The Pennsylvania State University, both of whom are former faculty members at Virginia Tech, and Timothy Long of Virginia Tech’s chemistry department.

“I am both excited and honored to have been selected as a recipient of the [National Science Foundation] CAREER award. This award creates an excellent opportunity to pursue my research on electroactive polymer biosensors. I believe that in situ health monitoring realized through multifunctional sensors will arm clinicians with new diagnostic tools and enable critical interventions. The ultimate goal of this research is to bridge the gap between vascular mechanical response and current vascular health, which will be of widespread benefit to our society. My future aspirations are to continue to build a strong program at Virginia Tech,” Goulbourne said.

Goulbourne received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Middlebury College in 2000, and completed her master’s degree and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at The Pennsylvania State University in 2005. She is one of the core faculty members in Virginia Tech’s Center for Intelligent Material Systems and Structures. Goulbourne is a member of the Society of Engineering Science (SES), the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE), the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE).

In the last three years she has secured approximately $1.2 million dollars in funding and support for her research. Her current research initiatives include electroactive polymers, biologically inspired transducers, reverse osmosis membranes, and impact mechanics of optically clear polymer films. Her long-term research focus is on developing a framework to connect material morphology with macroscopic response and performance of soft matter.