Congratulations to Beth Pruitt for being selected as an NSF BRITE Fellow!

BRITE Fellow: The Mechanobiology of Sex and Stress

December 10, 2022

The U.S. National Science Foundation awarded five engineering research grants to explore programmable materials, hybrid semiconductor manufacturing, cellular responses to stress, human-centered autonomous systems, and equitable disaster resilience.

Funded through the NSF Boosting Research Ideas for Transformative and Equitable Advances in Engineering (BRITE) program, the five-year BRITE Fellow grants provide up to $1 million per project. The NSF BRITE program is funded by NSF Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation (CMMI) in the NSF Engineering Directorate.

“The BRITE Fellow opportunity supports researchers who have a strong track record and a bold, unconventional vision that, if successful, could transform what’s possible and bring great benefits to the Nation,” said CMMI Division Director Robert Stone. “NSF expects these BRITE Fellow projects to challenge established ideas, open new fields and create new paths through thorny problems.”

The five NSF BRITE Fellow awards for FY 2023 are:

  • AI-Enabled Discovery and Design of Programmable Material Systems, Northwestern University: Programmable materials take on new shapes or functions in response to their environments, and they hold promise for use in medicine, transportation, construction, and other areas. Principal Investigator Wei Chen will develop methods to design the materials, architectures, and stimuli of programmable material systems simultaneously and predictably.
  • Autonomous Systems that Accommodate Human Perception and Reasoning about Uncertainty, University of New Mexico: Principal Investigator Meeko Oishi will integrate knowledge of human perception and reasoning about uncertainty into new methods for the design and control of autonomous dynamical systems. Her research will ensure a predictable level of safety in interactions between autonomous systems and humans in uncertain environments, with applications in aerospace, manufacturing, transportation, and healthcare systems.
  • The Mechanobiology of Sex and Stress, University of California, Santa Barbara: Principal Investigator Beth Pruitt will investigate sex differences in cellular responses to hormonal stressors, cardiotoxic stressors such as chemotherapy, and environmental stressors like those of aging, injury, and disease. She will develop new tools, methods and large data sets to study differing stress responses in cells, which today are observed only in tissues and organisms.
  • A New Paradigm of Equitable and Smart Multi-Hazard Resilience Modeling, William March Rice University: Principal Investigator Jamie Padgett will develop new methods for infrastructure resilience modeling that responds to the uncertain and evolving conditions imposed by earthquakes, hurricanes, and other hazards. Padgett will address inequities in data collection and algorithms to create just, intelligent, and adaptable models and more confident predictions.
  • Semiconductor Evolution via Manufacturing Innovation, Duke University: Principal Investigator Adrienne Stiff-Roberts will undertake feasibility research to transform a new hybrid manufacturing technique for thin-film deposition from lab-scale to commercial-scale. This adaptable technique could enable production of devices that combine organic and inorganic materials (like silicon semiconductors) and offer new functionality and performance.

“NSF’s BRITE Fellow awards give researchers unusual freedom to pursue ambitious research ideas. It’s exciting to imagine how they will push the boundaries of engineering and lay foundations for future exploration and impacts,” said Siddiq Qidwai, lead NSF program director for BRITE.

In addition to the Fellow awards, the NSF BRITE program is funding projects in three other tracks — supporting Pivot, Relaunch, and Synergy awards — for a total investment of more than $10 million in FY 2023.

NSF BRITE award research topics span all five clusters of CMMI: advanced manufacturing; dynamics, controls and cognition; engineering for civil infrastructure; mechanics of engineering materials and structures; and operations and design. See a list of all active NSF BRITE awards.

The NSF Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation advances the future of manufacturing, the design of innovative materials and building technologies, infrastructure resilience and sustainability, and tools and systems for decision-making, robotics and controls.


See article from NSF:


Award Abstract:

This Boosting Research Ideas for Transformative and Equitable Advances in Engineering (BRITE) Fellow award is to advance the Nation's understanding of the ways that male and female heart muscle cells handle stress differently. Recent studies have revealed significant differences in male and female biology, including disease progression and responses to stress in the heart. Importantly, these differences are observed not only in whole organs, but at the cellular level as well. The heart is the most mechanically stressed organ in our body. Specialized heart muscle cells serve as the motor units driving each heartbeat to pump blood throughout our bodies. While it is known that the hearts of mice, men and women vary in important details like size, heart rate, and protein composition, the fundamental mechanisms that cause these differences are not yet identified. There is a lack in access to human heart cells for comprehensive studies, mostly because these cells do not renew after biopsy, injury or disease. In this project, new sources of human heart cells that represent the diversity of society are developed and validated and their responses to stressors are studied by involving engineering, biology, statistics, and computer science. This multidisciplinary approach will support diverse workforce development and create education and training opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students who will become the next generation of researchers and science leaders. This project will highlight the importance of diversity in the basic science and fundamental understanding of physiological responses by disseminating data, models and best practices through publication and outreach at scientific meetings and events in the community.

Currently, a lack of models, human cell lines, and the methods to link cellular sex and mechanobiological stress responses exists. This project aims to develop and validate protocols for generating human heart muscle cells from induced stem cell lines obtained from a diversity of adult donors. To learn how and why male and female cells handle stress differently at the cellular level, these cells will be stressed with mechanical and chemical means and observed as to how they respond and change their structure and function, and further how they regulate key signaling proteins linked to physiological stress. This research will provide new insights into the interplay of differentially regulated sex genes and the integrated stress response. It will also cultivate new insights into muscle mechanobiology and how stress and sex cooperate to mediate cell maintenance and energy expenditures to facilitate contractile function and cellular remodeling under stress. This project will generate the aligned multi-modal data (images, videos, sequences), experimental meta-data, and sufficiently aligned and annotated data sets across a range of male and female stem cell lines that will be ultimately suitable for machine learning approaches by the research community. These data will be shared through publicly available repositories such as GEO, UC library archives, and the BisQue (Bio-Image Semantic Query User Environment) platform hosted at UCSB. The research outcomes and data will benefit researchers working on the development of cell and tissue engineering models and their application to preclinical biomedical inquiry. In the longer term, communities and groups that are under-represented in current studies (women, racial minorities) will benefit from the inclusion of representative cellular data.