Department: Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Position: Assistant Professor
Address: Mountaintop Campus
111 Research Drive
Bethlehem, PA 18015
Dr. Schulz pursues the following areas of research:
Characterization of synthetic biocompatible hydrogel scaffolds: Synthetic hydrogel scaffolds have been developed as model systems to study basic biological processes and kinetics of hydrogelation and degradation. Understanding how the underlying microstructure develops and contributes to the equilibrated material properties of these scaffolds will enable engineering of scaffolds for each desired experimental application. Developing techniques to characterize synthetic scaffolds during gelation, after equilibration, and throughout degradation will enable an understanding of how material microenvironments evolve and affect final material properties. We characterize these processes using passive microrheology (multiple particle tracking microrheology), bulk rheology, light scattering, small angle neutron scattering, confocal microscopy and model development using polymer physics.
High-throughput screening of three-dimensional cell encapsulation within a synthetic scaffold: The biophysical and biochemical cues presented to encapsulated cells comprise an enormous parameter space and a unique engineering challenge. Using high-throughput microfluidic methods we study the change in basic cellular processes, such as motility and differentiation, as these cues are varied. The versatility in microfluidic device design and fabrication material allows sample preparation from organic synthesis to self-assembled biocompatible hydrogelation. Combining rheological measurements and sample preparation in a microfluidic chip enables screening of material properties of novel matrices, furthering the development, design and engineering of unique hydrogel systems while minimizing the amount of material and experimentation time.
Characterization of cell-mediated degradation during encapsulation: The effect of matrix remodeling on surrounding cells is investigated. Synthetic hydrogel materials have been developed to mimic aspects of the native extracellular matrix (ECM) providing biophysical cues to encapsulated cells allowing cell remodeling and degradation. This degradation influences cell shape, motility and infiltration. Despite advantages of such material systems, little is known about how cells interact with and degrade synthetic scaffolds. Previous experiments have relied on empirical correlations between observations of cell motility and gel structure and chemistry. A better understanding of how a synthetic hydrogel scaffold is dynamically remodeled and degraded during migration will enable the engineering of environments that can manipulate cellular processes, such as migration and differentiation. This work focuses on how material properties influence cell motility. Specifically, we study migration as a function of polymer concentration and degradability of hydrogels, quantifying the material properties using bulk and microrheological characterization. This work will enable a quantitative correlation between material properties and cell motility, the extent and speed of movement and the time scale over which cells begin to migrate.