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ChEM-H Mechanobiology Fellows

The Stanford ChEM-H Mechanobiology Fellowship provided co-mentored, interdisciplinary postdoctoral training under the research theme, “Mechanobiology: How the mechanics of molecules, cells, and tissues regulate biological structure and function.”

The ChEM-H Mechanobiology Fellowship was designed to support recent PhD graduates from engineering, physical sciences, and life sciences fields. Fellows proposed an interdisciplinary research project guided by two or more mentors, with one mentor from engineering or the physical sciences and one mentor from medicine or the life sciences. Each ChEM-H Mechanobiology Fellow received an annual fellowship award of $50,000 for a two-year period. 

Former Fellows:

Cheavar Blair

Cheavar Blair, 2017 Fellow

Cheavar Blair was born and raised in Jamaica. After moving to Illinois, he completed his B.S. in Biology and M.S. in Plant Biology from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He pursued a Ph.D. in Physiology at the University of Kentucky, where he studied heart failure with Dr. Kenneth Campbell. Cheavar’s research focused on measuring the mechanical properties of cardiac samples from patients with and without heart failure to (1) examine mechanical differences in function, and (2) determine how potential therapeutics alter function.

At Stanford, Cheavar will continue his research as a ChEM-H Mechanobiology Postdoctoral Fellow under the co-mentorship of Profs. Beth Pruitt (Mechanical Engineering) and Daniel Bernstein (Pediatrics - Cardiology) measuring the mechanical properties of human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC) – derived cardiomyocytes (CMs). HiPSC—CMs hold great promise as a model system for understanding the mechanisms of heart failure caused by cardiotoxic drugs and genetic mutations. By utilizing this system, he will combine tools and questions from engineering, cardiology, and stem cell biology to develop new methods for understanding and combatting heart failure.


Christopher Madl

Christopher Madl, 2017 Fellow

Christopher Madl is originally from Vestal, New York, where he began his research career during high school under the supervision of Prof. Wayne Jones in the Chemistry Department of Binghamton University. Chris completed his undergraduate education at Harvard University, earning a B.A. in Biomedical Engineering and Chemistry and an M.S. in Bioengineering. During his 4 years at Harvard, Chris combined his prior experience in chemistry with his interest in biology as a member of Prof. David Mooney’s lab. His research focused on chemically modifying alginate hydrogels to control the delivery and differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells. Chris received his Ph.D. training in Bioengineering at Stanford University under the supervision of Prof. Sarah Heilshorn. His doctoral work consisted of two main subjects: (1) the use of hydrogel platforms to optimize the expansion of neural progenitor cells and (2) incorporation of bio-orthogonal crosslinking chemistries to expand the functionality of engineered protein hydrogels.

While working in the Mooney and Heilshorn labs, Chris became deeply interested in how stem cells interact with their local microenvironment. During his postdoctoral training under the supervision of Profs. Helen Blau (Microbiology & Immunology) and Alex Dunn (Chemical Engineering), he will use his expertise in biomaterials to design platforms for studying muscle stem cell-extracellular matrix interactions. His work will investigate the biochemical mechanisms of muscle stem cell mechanosensing and how these signaling pathways may contribute to stem cell dysfunction with aging.


Leeya Engel

Leeya Engel, 2016 Fellow

Leeya Engel received her B.Sc. in Physics from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2008. She pursued a direct-track Ph.D in Materials Engineering and Nanotechnologies at Tel Aviv University, where she researched polymeric microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). Her 9 publications and 2 patents focus mainly on the development and characterization of electroactive polymer (EAP) sensors and actuators, which included using EAP hydrogels for operation in cardiovascular systems, developing EAP based microfluidic circuitry as a visiting student researcher UC Berkeley, and developing freestanding cardiac patches with integrated electronics for on-line monitoring and regulation of tissue function. Her work has been recognized by several awards, including the Marian Gertner Medical Nanosystems Fellowship in 2013 and the AVS Nellie Yeoh Whetten Award in 2015.

Leeya developed an interest in quantitative biology upon realizing that mechanotransduction operates more elegantly than MEMS, but that MEMS could be useful tools towards understanding the subcellular mechanisms behind mechanoadhesion. Leeya was selected as a ChEM-H Mechanobiology Postdoctoral Fellow in 2016 and is looking forward to developing her knowledge of biology, and biointerfaces so that she can gain the skills she needs to solve problems in the field of mechanobiology. Under the co-mentorship of Profs. Beth Pruitt (Mechanical Engineering), Alex Dunn (Chemical Engineering), and William Weis (Structural Biology), Leeya plans to develop and deploy microfabricated force sensing platforms that enable quantitative measurements of cellular adhesion simultaneous with cutting edge cell biology, imaging and biochemistry assays to understand how cadherins complexes, desmosomes and tight junctions regulate mechanobiological signaling to the cytoskeleton and nucleus.


Michael Kratochvil

Michael Kratochvil, 2016 Fellow

Michael Kratochvil was born and raised in Billings, Montana. He attended Carroll College in Helena, Montana, where he earned a B.A. in chemistry with a minor in biology. Although he initially planned on applying for medical school, a combination of inspiring chemistry professors and his undergraduate research in the genetics lab of Prof. Gerald Shields directed him towards a career in research. During this time, he began to foster an interest in studies at the interface of chemistry and biology. He decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Chemistry at University of Wisconsin-Madison in the then newly formed Chemical Biology division. He conducted his graduate studies under the direction of Prof. David Lynn, where his work focused on development of polymer thin film systems for the controlled release of small molecules and peptides that interrupt bacterial communication.

Through his graduate research, Michael became more broadly interested in the myriad of ways that biomaterials could modulate and direct biological behaviors. In accordance with his passion for interdisciplinary research and biomaterials, his research career will continue as a ChEM-H Mechanobiology Postdoctoral Fellow under the co-mentorship of Profs. Sarah Heilshorn (Materials Science & Engineering) and Paul Bollyky (Medicine - Infectious Diseases). At Stanford, he plans to investigate the response of immune cells to various mechanical properties in hydrogels within the context of wound healing.