Research Areas

How and why do materials affect surfaces? What can we engineer from them? These are the questions we ask, relying on a solid foundation in fundamental science to direct our research in bioactive polymers and how they interact with everything from contact lenses to catheters to the algae growing on boats. Our research integrates biology, polymer chemistry, surface science and bioengineering techniques.

Here’s what we’re working on:

  1. Stimulus-responsive (‘smart’) polymers. The term “smart materials” refers to a class of materials that undergo a physical change in response to environmental cues. In some cases, these smart polymers are bioactive—meaning that they can stimulate mammalian cells to move, change, grow, or die. These materials are useful for a wide variety of bioengineering applications, including cell-based sensors, drug delivery systems, and engineered tissues.

    This work has been highlighted in Langmuir, Biointerphases, and has led to several provisional patents.
  2. Adaptive Design. Most health-related research goes into improving the detection or treatment of diseases. But what about the side effects that people face after their treatment ends? Nearly 1 in 4 Americans have some kind of disability. Adaptive biomedical designs are focused on improving people’s daily lives. A number of projects that originated as student-led designs have led to provisional patents through our spin-off company, Adaptive Biomedical Design.

    Work in this area has been supported by the NSF I-Corps Site program led by UNM’s Innovation Academy (iA), and STC.UNM.
  3. Engineering Education. In courses such as Engineering Design for Global Health, Biomaterials, and Biochemical Engineering, Professor Canavan incorporates design challenges that are directly tied to real-world issues to help students understand how their courses relate to their careers in engineering. Students study how hands-on design challenges, prototype design projects, use of makerspaces, and working in diverse teams lead to better outcomes for students, such as higher GPAs, faster time to graduation, and better satisfaction in their overall careers.

    Our work has been highlighted in journals such as Chemical Engineering Education and the American Society for Engineering Education.
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