Mechanical engineering Professor Sachin Goyal has received a CAREER award for his research into how the arrangements of atoms and interatomic bonds affect the deformability of biological filaments such as those that control gene expression, and whether it’s possible to design them for desired deformation behaviors by simply changing the atomistic configurations.
He is the 30th researcher from UC Merced to earn a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
CAREER awards are among the NSF’s most prestigious awards. They are given through the Faculty Early Career Development Program to recognize untenured faculty members as teacher-scholars. Early-career faculty members are selected based on three factors: the strength of their research proposals; their potential to serve as academic role models in research and education; and their leadership in their field and organizations.
Goyal will receive $500,000 over the next five years for the project “Understanding the Deformability of Biological Filaments from their Atomistic Level Details.”
Goyal’s research group focuses on biomechanics and mechano-biology — mechanics, dynamics or controls with applications in biology and medicine. The primary emphasis is on physical and mathematical modeling and computational simulations.
For this project, he intends to provide fundamental research that could, for example, enable scientists to engineer the mechanical and chemical signals of genetic material for such applications as gene therapy or cancer treatments. The research will bring a radically new perspective to the field, and the NSF called this project high-risk with the potential for big rewards.
“The existing models for simulating the deformations of filaments are inadequate to explain the crucial mechanics of the biologically relevant deformations. The goal of this research is to clear this roadblock,” Goyal said. “A friend of mine described it in a very eloquent way: We are trying to understand how Newton’s laws of force balance govern the color of our eyes.”
Goyal has been with UC Merced since 2012 and is a member of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He is affiliated with The Health Sciences Research Institute and the CREST Center for Cellular and Biomolecular Machines.
Each CAREER award proposal includes an educational outreach component, and Goyal said his will include the development of educational tools and virtual labs for engineering students to learn the mechanics of beams along with some novel concepts and transform the way engineering students learn mechanics of materials. It will also create fundamental knowledge that connects the fields of engineering and technology with basic science and mathematics.
“Additionally, it will provide high school students a unique learning perspective and empower schoolteachers with new knowledge on the topics covered under ‘From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes,’” Goyal said.
He was thrilled to learn he was among this year’s CAREER recipients and credits the success of his proposal to his former Ph.D. student Soheil Fatehiboroujeni, who contributed to the groundwork of both the research and the educational component. Fatehiboroujeni has since become an assistant professor at Colorado State University in the department of mechanical engineering, pursuing his research in engineering pedagogy.
"I feel like he earned this award for me," Goyal said.
The award bolsters his passion for this line of research and the integrated education plan, he said.
“The University of California values risk taking in our research, and so do agencies like the NSF,” he said. “This tells me that we should focus on pursuing our passion and strive to make a big difference, and not be dissuaded by the risk of failures. I hope my students learn this kind of scientific attitude and feed that same sense of curiosity that we are all born with. We just need to nurture it and keep it alive.”