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UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science assistant professors, Kenle ChenZhaomiao (Walter) Guo and Luigi Perotti, have been named 2023 National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award winners. The combined award total is an estimated $1.5 million.

Recipients of this prestigious, early-faculty award exhibit the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education, and lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.

Each UCF awardee is using their expertise to study the core part of a key system — whether it’s Perotti understanding heart mechanics in relation to health and disease, Guo’s research on harnessing solar power through electric vehicles or Chen, who is redefining high-speed connectivity used in communication antennas.

Modeling Heart Mechanics at the Microscale

Luigi Perotti

Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Title: How Does the Heart Contract? A Microstructure-Based Approach to Understand Cardiac Function and Dysfunction

Award: $520,769

Mechanical and aerospace engineering Assistant Professor Luigi Perotti’s project will develop a computational model capable of relating observable macroscopic motion in the heart, such as a cardiac contraction, to its causes at the cellular and tissue levels.

By linking cellular and tissue level mechanics to heart function in health and disease, Perotti’s work can inform investigations of how localized and more widespread abnormalities contribute to cardiac dysfunction across scales.

“If we can link the micro and macroscales more accurately, then we can improve diagnosis and treatment because we can have a more precise, causal link between the changes that happened in the heart,” Perotti says.

“If we can link the micro and macroscales more accurately, then we can improve diagnosis and treatment…” Perotti says.

To build, test and improve their models, Perotti and his team in the Computational Biomechanics Lab, will use existing literature and acquired magnetic resonance imaging data, like those from Cardiac Diffusion Tensor Imaging and Displacement Encoding with Stimulated Echoes Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or DENSE MRI.

The multiscale computational models will be compared with this experimental data to connect deformation at the cellular and microstructural levels to motion measurable at the tissue and ventricle scales.

“We hope that our results based on microstructural models and imaging data can suggest new quantitative biomarkers to quantify cardiac motion,” Perotti says.

The project will also include outreach to students from local schools to inspire their interest in science, engineering and healthcare.

“Students will be able to hold basic heart models in their hands to understand how the myofiber organizes in a helical structure across the wall and understand how this helical structure is important for cardiac contraction,” Perotti says.

For Perotti, his heart has always been intrigued by coding and biology. His research as a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles, initially focused on analyzing the maturation of spherical viral shells and how to model their change in shape. However, after his mentor invited him to join a cardiac electrophysiology project, Perotti’s interest in the complex studies of the heart with medical experts intensified.

Since joining UCF in 2019, he continues projects with faculty and students, and says he enjoys the collaborative opportunities the university offers.

“From the time I interviewed for this position, I always had the impression that UCF is very energetic and there is a strong push to grow together,” he says.