Dr. Kothapalli received his B.S. and M.S. training in Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering, and obtained his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from the Clemson University-Medical University of South Carolina joint program. He did a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, before joining Cleveland State in 2011. His teaching and research interests are in biomaterials, tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, biomechanics and microfluidics.
1. How did you decide on Chemical and Biomedical Engineering?
Biomedical engineering was still in its infancy in India when I had to choose my undergraduate major. So, I trained as a chemical engineer, and later diversified to materials science and biomedical engineering after I came to US. Interestingly, many of my peers and colleagues across the United States share similar career trajectories. I personally think that everyone should be trained in multiple disciplines, as exciting stuff is happening at the interface of fields.
2. What attracted you to CSU and the Washkewicz College of Engineering?
Over the past few years, CSU has been strategically investing to modernize the campus infrastructure and improve the academic environment, with primary focus on student retention, experience and success. The faculty in my department are highly collegial and we take pride that we function as a single unit.
The student to faculty ratio is low in the College of Engineering compared to many Universities that I have been at. We know every student in the class by their name (not their CSU-ID) which makes one-on-one mentoring an enjoyable experience.
3. What is it that most students do not know about the Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering?
Even though we are a small department, we maintain an active research program encompassing energy, biomedical, biochemical, materials and nanotechnology fields. Students should utilize this opportunity to train in our labs during summer or winter breaks to broaden their understanding of theoretical concepts and practical applications.
4. Do you have any major accomplishments to share from your time at CSU?
I have been fortunate to obtain a major instrumentation grant from NSF to purchase an advanced atomic force microscope for biomedical research and training purposes. We are expecting another major federal grant to support our stem cell based research efforts.
(Editor’s note: Dr. Kothapalli was also awarded the Faculty Merit Award from CSU in both 2013 and 2014.)
5. What type of research projects are you currently conducting?
In my lab, we currently work on understanding how axons in our developing brain respond to gradients of various biomolecules to reach their intended targets, and how we can exploit this knowledge to regenerate axonal tracks lost due to disease or injury. In another project, we are developing novel nitric oxide based drug delivery approaches to regenerate the lost elastin matrix within blood vessels under aortic aneurysmal conditions. Another graduate student is exploring how we can guide and control human bone-marrow derived stem cells to differentiate specifically into cardiac lineage, towards treatment of injured myocardium after a heart-attack. Other projects include – investigating the effects of environmental toxicants on neural stem cells, role of microenvironment on cancer cell migration dynamics, mathematical modeling of biological phenomena, to name a few.
6. What significant changes do you see coming to your field within the next 10 years?
Biomedical engineering is a broad and constantly-evolving field. We can anticipate major breakthroughs in cancer imaging and targeted-treatment modalities; clinically-approved stem cell therapies for treating Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis and cardiac diseases; high-throughput and low-cost diagnostic kits; a better understanding of disease pathogenesis; to name a few.
7. What is your advice to students pursuing graduate studies?
Choose your career paths carefully. Follow your heart, but also listen to your mind. Brainstorm your ideas with a select group of friends. If you haven’t already done so, identify a few mentors for advice and counseling.
8. What is your advice to graduate students seeking to advance in their field?
- Attend at least one seminar every week in your program or peripheral fields. It could be at CSU or neighboring schools and institutes in Cleveland.
- Even if you don’t have anything to present, attend at least one conference a year in your field.
- Go to lunch with faculty or industry folks in an informal setting and pick their brains.
- Pick at least one hobby to keep your mind focused and positive.
- The moment you think you have figured out everything (“graduate student syndrome”), you cease to learn anything new.
9. What do you like most about working with students?
Though it might sound cliché, I love teaching, mentoring, and training students – whether it is teaching vocabulary and math to my 5-year old or training undergrads in chemical engineering principles, or discussing stem cell biology with graduate students. I consider myself a life-long student.
10. What surprised you most about life in Cleveland?
I was not prepared for prolonged sub-zero temperatures.