Vlachos, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, recently secured the five-year CAREER grant, which is worth more than $400,000 and is the National Science Foundation's most prestigious award for creative junior faculty who are considered likely to become academic leaders of the future.
"Cardiovascular disease has historically been the leading cause of death in the U.S. and accounts for about one-third of all deaths worldwide," Vlachos said. "However, cardiovascular flows are not well understood. To improve disease diagnostic tools and treatments for heart disease, we need to understand the physics of blood flow through the body."
As the heart pumps blood through the arteries and veins of the cardiovascular system, it transfers nutrients and oxygen to all of the body's tissues and organs, Vlachos explained. "The arteries and vessels in this large network are short, curved, flexible pipes with many branches that deform as pressure increases during each heartbeat."
The curvature, branching, flexibility and pressure pulse characteristics of these "pipes" result in a complex environment where flow disturbances can lead to the formation of plaque and arterial stenosis, or narrowing.
Vlachos will construct experimental models of the cardiovascular system through which fluids can be pumped. Using advanced optical imaging tools that will perform tens of thousands of measurements simultaneously across the arterial models, he hopes to discover how flow disturbances influence a variety of cardiovascular disease conditions.