When he was a kid, Professor Ben Wheatley played with an electronic circuit board, and along with his father, built his own boat for fun. His projects have gotten a lot more complex over the years, but he hasn't lost his infectious enthusiasm for engineering.
""Students respond really well to my energy level. They enjoy seeing someone who's really excited to teach," says Wheatley, a mechanical engineer and the first recipient of the John P. and Mary Jane Swanson Professorship in Engineering & the Sciences. "I think it's great to show that side of myself to students. I also think it's great to blur the line between the classroom and the laboratory. That's how students develop into the strongest engineers they can be."
From his elementary interest in how machines work, Wheatley's focus shifted to controls and design in college, then changed again when he discovered biomechanics as a college senior.
"I started taking some biomechanics courses and I realized that I really enjoyed that application to the biomedical world," he says. "I was really interested in understanding human movement and the mechanical behavior of biomedical materials."
Wheatley went to work for a year in the biomedical industry, then began studying skeletal muscle mechanics as a doctoral student at Colorado State University. His research focuses on better understanding how individual muscle tissues behave and function from a solid-mechanics perspective. As an example, Wheatley hopes to use pressure microsensors to measure how individual muscles within the body behave, allowing for more targeted — and effective — treatment methods for a wide variety of clinical conditions ranging from neurological diseases to injuries caused by muscle weakness or advanced age.
"It's a neat project that encompasses a lot of different fields of engineering, biomedical sciences and health," he says.
The research also appeals to Wheatley because it has not been widely studied. Most research in the area has focused on ligaments and cartilage, tissues that are associated with osteoarthritis and other joint diseases.
"When you work with muscles, you know that the field is not huge, but that there is room for growth," Wheatley says. "It's a fantastic opportunity to be a pioneer."
Posted Oct. 6, 2017