Bavand Keshavarz: Harnessing Hydrogels and Nature-Inspired Soft Materials

10/24 Pratt School of Engineering

New faculty member Bavand Keshavarz joins Duke Engineering with expertise of soft materials and fluid dynamics

Bavand Keshavarz
Bavand Keshavarz: Harnessing Hydrogels and Nature-Inspired Soft Materials

On January 2024, Duke Engineering will welcome one of its newest faculty members, Bavand Keshavarz, whose comprehensive background in fluid dynamics and soft matter mechanics brings exciting interests for researchers to explore all across campus.

In a recent conversation, Keshavarz elaborated on his research aspirations. His interests lie at the unique intersection of fluid dynamics, the study of liquids’ behavior and soft matter mechanics, which examines the properties of materials that are neither traditional liquids nor hard solids, such as gels, polymers and foams.

According to Keshavarz, the world is becoming increasingly reliant on soft materials, particularly in medical applications. Polymers have become an integral part of modern life, from plastics to more advanced applications.

The last 50 years, in particular, have witnessed the rise of hydrogels that are water-absorbent polymer gels. Given their compatibility with the human body, these materials have diverse applications, including in everyday items like contact lenses, which is why they have become a significant focus for Keshavarz.

Beyond their current applications like hygiene products and wound dressings, Keshavarz envisions their potential in advanced medical implants, responsive sensors and sustainable water purification systems. He explained, “Their molecular structure allows for incredible versatility. The trick is to harness it.”

Despite significant advancements, Keshavarz feels that we have yet to fully harness the potential of certain biological soft materials. For instance, nature provides us with inspirations such as spider silk or the fibrous threads of mussels, which have remarkable properties and are fabricated from intriguing functional biomolecules in precursor liquid solutions that solidify during a fluid-mediated formation process.

Keshavarz’s research aims to bridge the gap, understanding the chemistry of such materials and combining it with the fluid dynamics of the formation process to engineer new, functional materials.

His enthusiasm for interdisciplinary work was evident as he spoke of the challenges and joys of combining elements from various fields. For Keshavarz, fundamental research can lead to applications that benefit humanity, making his work even more compelling.

Highlighting the allure of Duke University, Keshavarz mentioned the institution’s thriving interdisciplinary research environment. “Duke’s interdisciplinary nature is one of the key reasons I’m here,” Keshavarz remarked. This collaborative spirit allows for innovative research that borrows from various fields, ensuring a diverse and enriching environment.

He also expressed admiration for Duke’s legacy in biologically inspired research, citing prominent Duke authors and scientists, including Steven Vogel and Knut Schmidt-Nielsen. Additionally, he is excited about the potential collaborations with current faculty members like Steve Craig, William T. Miller Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, and Michael Rubinstein, Aleksandar S. Vesic Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry and Physics.

Outside the confines of the lab and classroom, Keshavarz enjoys literature, classic movies from the 30s and 40s, and reconnecting with nature through hikes. “Hobbies help maintain creativity and joy,” he commented.

As Keshavarz embarks on this new chapter at Duke University, both the institution and Duke’s broader scientific community look forward to the innovative solutions and discoveries that are sure to emerge from his lab.