An interview with Mariana Kersh

10/7/2022 Jeremiah Witten, MechSE undergraduate

Professor Mariana Kersh uses experimental methods to evaluate macro-scale structural and mechanical properties of biological tissues.

Written by Jeremiah Witten, MechSE undergraduate

This is one of a series of interviews conducted by Jeremiah Witten, an undergraduate student in MechSE.

Mariana Kersh is an associate professor of Mechanical Science and Engineering. I studied statics with her as my instructor and I knew a discussion about biomechanics would be intriguing. 

Mariana KershProfessor Kersh believed in high school that she would become an orthopedic surgeon. She even got the opportunity to shadow a cardiovascular surgeon and it was there she realized just how much of medicine is in fact mechanics.

Professor Kersh’s education began at the University of Texas where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English. After realizing that she did not want to work with her English degree for much longer, she returned to school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees in mechanical engineering. She was a post-doctoral research fellow in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Melbourne from 2010 to 2014.

Currently, she is the Director of the Tissue Biomechanics Lab at Illinois. Her research involves using experimental methods to evaluate macro-scale structural and mechanical properties of different kinds of biological tissues. The results of these evaluations are then used in finite element simulations to better understand the behavior of these tissues under physiological loads.

Fundamentally, Professor Kersh tries to instill a community of inclusion and teamwork when it comes to working with graduate students. She knows graduate school is very challenging and she uses that as an opportunity to bring her team together even more. Shared hardships are a great way to develop relationships, and this is where her work environment of inclusion and teamwork comes in to play.

Professor Kersh named one of the challenges she faces as researching the strain environment of a tissue, specifically the tibia, during real-time use in basketball players. In the past, there has only been mechanical testing done on cadavers. One recent study that is approved to be published, involves looking at the tibia of basketball players and horses and analyzing the stress environment in order to create a high-fidelity model to map the life of the bone and study its mechanical properties over time.

Professor Kersh is also part-time faculty at the Beckman Institute on campus and said the collaboration there is what has really allowed imaging techniques in the biomechanics field to make this study possible.

Additionally, she is a Health Innovation Professor at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine. Through this partnership, the most prominent clinical implications get brought to the table by Carle Illinois health professionals with Grainger researchers working in tandem with the health professionals to solve important health challenges.  

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This story was published October 7, 2022.