Xinqiao Jia will never forget a visitor to her professor's lab at Fudan University in Shanghai, China, when she was working on her master's degree in polymer chemistry and physics. The lab was working to synthesize polymers for carrying cancer-fighting drugs in the human body.
"One day, a farmer from a remote area in northeast China appeared in the lab, desperate to find a cure for his wife's cancer," Jia said. "We felt so bad for him," she noted. "That experience made me determined to pursue a career in biomedical research."
Jia, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Delaware, recently received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award. The highly competitive award is bestowed on those scientists deemed most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century.
Over the next five years, the $500,000 award will support Jia's research to develop strong, yet soft and flexible biomaterials that can be used to engineer damaged tissues, particularly the vocal folds. This basic research is essential to advancing the highly interdisciplinary field of tissue engineering, in which scientists someday hope to provide synthetic tissues for repairing or replacing damaged human organs.
"Xinqiao Jia is a wonderful scientist and teacher who is doing innovative research on biomaterials," Eric Kaler, the Elizabeth Inez Kelley Professor of Chemical Engineering and dean of UD's College of Engineering, said. "We are delighted that she has received this prestigious award."
Building on her previous research, Jia's goal is to develop hybrid materials that can respond rapidly and reversibly to mechanical forces for long periods. Mechanically active tissue is found in many areas of the human body--the heart, for example, beats an average of 70 times a minute when you are resting, and the vocal folds vibrate more than 100 times a second when you are speaking.