Will Zhang

I spent my childhood in the mountainous region of Inner Mongolia, China. I grew up as a lover of mathematics. It’s the precise and logical nature of it that I felt the most reassuring. Everything can be proven and everything makes sense. During elementary school, my family had the opportunity to move to Vancouver, Canada. I received my high school and undergraduate education on the campus of the University of British Columbia. My love of physics grew at this time. The application of mathematics to real-world phenomena is extremely fascinating. My undergraduate degree was in Honours Biophysics. The program was fairly new but competitive accepting only the top 30 applicants each year. It covered a wide range of mathematics and physics area such as probability and statistics, calculus, mechanicals, quantum physiology, electromagnetics, and statistical mechanics, and using what’s learned to explore the underlying physical mechanism in biochemists and cellular biology.

This prepared me for my graduate studies at The University of Texas at Austin. At the University of Texas, I focus my research on the biomechanics of heart valves. Our goal was to develop a constitutive modeling framework for simulating the fatigue of bioprosthetic heart valves, to better understand the underlying mechanisms responsible for its mechanical function and how we can utilize this knowledge in predicting and simulating the evolving mechanical properties under cyclic loading. It’s an attempt at taking the variabilities and complexities of biology and trying to make sense of it through mathematics. It’s a great example of where solid and well-grounded mathematics meets the complexities of real-world applications. This is also a great starting point for my academic goal. I hope to use of simulation, at the molecular or organ-level, to explore the underlying mechanisms responsible for the function of biological tissues or tissue derived biomaterials. Using these mechanisms learn, we can predict the long-term growth and adaption of living engineered tissues in vivo as a way to provide guidance to optimize surgical interventions and predict surgical outcomes, as well as to aid in the design of living engineered biomaterials and organs.

Research Interests

My long term goal is the prediction and simulation of the growth and adaptation of living engineered tissues in vivo. My current goals are the use of simulation, at the molecular or organ-level, to explore the underlying mechanisms responsible for the function of biological tissues or tissue derived biomaterials. I enjoy the integration of experimental data, multiscale modeling and simulations that utilize the underlying structure and mechanisms to predict the mechanical response of normal and pathological tissues, thereby allowing us to predict how the tissues evolve geometrically and mechanical over time due to internal factors such as growth and remodeling and external factors such as diseases and fatigue damage. These results have important applications in the guidance of surgical interventions and predict surgical outcomes, as well as to optimize the design of surgical replacement devices using engineered cell seeded biomaterials that can grow and adapt. The specific areas that I am currently most interested in pursuing in the future are:

1) Cell modeling and cell modulated growth and remodeling. The most fundamental and important factor affecting the adaptation of biological tissues to diseases, pathology, and other external stimuli is the behavior of cells in response to these factors. Thus, understanding the response of growth and adaption of cells in response to external mechanical and chemical stimuli is an important part of being able to construct predictive simulations at a tissue or organ-level.

2) Exploring the mechanisms underlying the mechanical function of fibrous materials, particularly investigating the mechanisms behind the mechanical response of collagen and other fibers in biological tissues using molecular dynamics simulations. Presently investigating and modeling of collagenous and other fibrous tissues are done through tissue level experimentation. This limits how we can explore the underlying mechanism of the structural proteins work together to maintain the mechanical properties of the tissue.

3) Growth and remodeling of collagenous tissues and other fibrous biomaterials. One increasingly popular field in the development of cell embedded degradable biomaterials which can be replaced by native tissue overtime by the human body. However, the constitutive modeling and basic understanding of the biomechanics of the material is severely lacking. Without a predictive model of the mechanical response of these materials, particularly how the mechanical response will adapt over time due to growth and remodeling with the human body, the development of these biomaterials faces a major bottleneck preventing them from being truly utilized in a medical setting.