Deb Chachra
Dr. Chachra is passionate about working with undergraduate students and about improving engineering education. She is currently collaborating with Olin students to study biological materials, including the polymer nest cell linings of Colletes bees. She is concurrently involved in research on the undergraduate engineering experience. Her primary project is an investigation of self-efficacy in first-year, project-based design courses, with an eye towards improving these experiences for students at Olin and beyond. She has also studied and published on other aspects of the student experience, including studies of persistence and migration (why students stay in engineering or choose to leave), as well as differences in the engineering experience between male and female students.

Prior to joining the faculty of Olin College, Dr. Chachra was a postdoctoral associate at MIT in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. She joined MIT from the University of Toronto, where she received her master's degree and Ph.D. in materials science. Dr. Chachra has a bachelor's degree in engineering science, also from the University of Toronto. She was a recipient of a National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada postdoctoral fellowship and a Medical Research Council of Canada graduate fellowship, as well as numerous other honors for her research and publications. In 2010, she received an NSF CAREER Award in support of her research on engineering education.

Architectural Biology and Biological Architectures

The natural and the human-made have mostly been distinct--we can usually tell them apart at a glance. But over the last century or so, cutting-edge architecture (like museums and corporate headquarters) has gradually transformed from rectilinear and repetitive modernism, to organic and random. While cultural factors no doubt play a part, this aesthetic progression can be linked to the rise of computing technologies for stress analysis, design, and fabrication. Meanwhile, inside each of us, our bones have been doing this all along: bone cells sense mechanical load and create complex, organic geometries that change over time in response to how we use our bodies. But today, the coupling of evolutionary algorithms with 3D printing means our synthetic systems are starting to converge on the capacities of these biological systems. One day, human-made buildings and structures might be able to grow and change in response to use in the same way that our bones, blood vessels, and other biological systems do.