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Weird Science: Kit Parker’s breakthrough work on artificial hearts and brain injuries

Dec. 5, 2016, 3:41 PM

Expect the unexpected when you walk into Kit Parker’s biophysics lab at Harvard. From cuttlefish skin camouflage to cotton candy machines used for wound dressings, his science is anything but ordinary. In fact, the young scientists inside are just as likely to be playing with crayons to visualize solutions to complex problems as they are building new tissues for use in artificial hearts or brains.

“I have three artists in my group,” says Parker, MS’93, PhD’98, who is the Tarr Family Professor at Harvard University. “A few years ago I decided that I needed to expand my hiring from just the best scientists and engineers to the most creative people I could find. We have always had quite a bit of creative craziness in the lab.”

It’s that out-of-left-field, creative flair that has put Parker’s work in the spotlight during the past year. As part of his quest to build an artificial heart, he has created a robotic stingray as a training exercise for building muscular pumps, using material from a breast implant, rat cells, and a pinch of gold. In another area of research, Parker drew upon his combat experience as a reservist in the U.S. Army to propose a revolutionary new way of understanding traumatic brain injury.

Both projects have attracted the attention of the scientific community and media outlets like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and NPR.

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Originally published in Vanderbilt Magazine