Luetkemeyer brings soft tissue image-based modeling methods to MechSE

11/7/2022 Taylor Tucker

New MechSE professor Callan Luetkemeyer aims to strengthen the department's research program in the area of soft tissue mechanics.

Written by Taylor Tucker

Callan LuetkemeyerMechSE recently welcomed to our faculty Callan Luetkemeyer from the University of Colorado Boulder, where she held a two-year postdoctoral fellowship.

Luetkemeyer, who received her PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan in 2020, primarily researches soft tissue mechanics.

“Most of my doctoral research was focused on mathematically modeling the relationship between stress and strain in ligaments,” Luetkemeyer said. “I detailed out the reasons why traditional methods weren’t giving us quantitatively predictive models and then got into image-based modeling.”

In grade school, Luetkemeyer loved math. “I just wanted to be in a math class all day long,” she said. She was also active in sports, starting out in softball and figure skating before throwing discus in track and field. Luetkemeyer continued in track and field in college for both the discus and hammer throw.

Microarchitecture of a mouse ligature
The microarchitecture of a mouse ligament was visualized with fluorescent molecular probes and confocal microscopy.

“I’m from a tiny farm town at the northern edge of the Ozarks in Missouri,” Luetkemeyer said. “The mentality there was that a mathematics degree was not practical, so [I was encouraged] to study engineering because it still had a lot of math.” After she began attending Saint Louis University for undergrad, her sports background led to an interest in biomechanics research.

complex displacement pattern in a sheep ligament
This complex displacement pattern in a sheep ligament during unidirectional stretching was measured with displacement-encoded MRI. 

As a grad student, Luetkemeyer was awarded the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship. Following her graduation, she was awarded an interdisciplinary postdoctoral fellowship through the philanthropic initiative Schmidt Futures. Her postdoc research focused on combining her background in image-based modeling with techniques from extracellular matrix biology to understand damage in soft tissues, which could help predict injuries.

“My next goal is to predict injury computationally,” she said. “But the long-term goal is to use the methods I’ve developed to actually detect damage and tissue microstructure non-invasively. I want to work toward diagnostic imaging platforms that are mechanics-based.”

As a faculty member at Illinois, Luetkemeyer also hopes to bring more of an inclusive focus to rural communities like her hometown. “The first two years of college weren’t easy because I hadn’t been exposed to a lot of things, both academically and culturally,” she reflected. “I want to do some rural outreach and I think Illinois is a great place to do this.”

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This story was published November 7, 2022.