CLEMSON — Joshua Bostwick of Clemson University is launching a new research project that could lead to improved drug delivery techniques and is made possible by one of the nation’s most prestigious awards for junior faculty members.

Joshua Bostwick, left, works in a lab with Ph.D. student Xingchen Shao.

Joshua Bostwick, left, works in a lab with Ph.D. student Xingchen Shao.

Bostwick, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is receiving a $500,000 CAREER award from the National Science Foundation. The funding pays for Bostwick to do research and to develop an educational program based on his research.

“Our goals are ambitious yet achievable,” he said. “We aim to place the field of elastocapillary fluid dynamics on a firm foundation for future growth that has the potential to be transformative.”

Elastocapillary fluid dynamics deals with the motion of liquid on soft materials, such as organs and other human tissue. When the materials come into contact with liquid, they deform, creating their own speed bumps. That affects the fluid motion.

“Tissues are generally complex materials,” Bostwick said. “They don’t behave exactly like a solid, and they don’t behave exactly like a fluid. They behave somewhat in between. To understand the motion of liquids on complex soft materials is the idea. It is relevant to many biological applications.”

Any new technologies would be several years off, but the Bostwick research could enable many new opportunities, he said. For example, Bostwick’s work could help researchers understand the motion of cancer cells through the body, how injectable drugs move through tissues and the optimal droplet size in aerosol medicine.

Richard Figliola, acting chair of the mechanical engineering department, said the award is well-deserved.

“The CAREER award is highly prestigious and widely seen as a sign of future success,” he said. “It’s a reflection of Dr. Bostwick’s talent, creativity and hard work.”

Bostwick has laid out four goals as part of his research: to predict and experimentally verify the dispersion relationship for elastocapillary waves, to describe the fluid mechanics of droplet durotaxis/mechanotaxis, to quantify the splashing dynamics of liquids on soft solids and to develop fully coupled models of spreading liquids on deformable viscoelastic solids.

As part of his award, Bostwick has already begun to develop a Creative Inquiry course and a summer program that would give undergraduates a chance to learn about elastocapillarity through research.

“Because the field is new, the research problems undertaken by these undergraduates have the potential for high impact in the academic literature, which will improve the quality of their graduate school applications,” he said.

Bostwick also envisions a graduate-level introductory course in elastocapillarity and a departmental seminar focused on research and professional development for graduate students.

“The seminars will enhance the departmental research culture and help increase the placement of graduates in academic careers, which will help build the department’s national reputation,” he said.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, congratulated Bostwick on the award.

“This award helps position Dr. Bostwick among the nation’s leading early-career faculty members in engineering and science,” Gramopadhye said. “With the award, he is establishing a firm foundation on which to build a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research. The award is richly deserved.”

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under award number 1750208. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.