New York, NY—May 17, 2006
Engineer Marjolein van der Meulen, Ph.D., associate scientist with the laboratory for biomedical mechanics and materials at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, is featured in a new book titled "Changing Our World: True Stories of Women Engineers.” The book addresses the issue of female under-representation in the field of engineering. According to the book, of the estimated one million engineers in the United States today, approximately 100,000 of them are women.
Written by Sybil Hatch and published by the Extraordinary Women Engineers Project, the book’s introduction says women engineers are united by a desire to “give back to society and make the world a better place.”
“The opportunity to improve human health is a big part of what motivates me,” said Dr. van der Meulen. “I like working on problems that are not abstract academic exercises.”
“Our research examines how forces produced by everyday activities are sensed by bone cells that then react to adapt bone mass,” she explained. “In tennis players, for example, it has been shown that thicker and stronger bones are produced in the playing arm. In the lab, we simulate forces applied to the skeleton to understand how these processes can be harnessed to form bone. We hope that this will one day benefit individuals with bone loss associated with osteoporosis.”
Dr. van der Meulen first became interested in pursuing a career in engineering when, as a teenager, she saw a television program about paraplegics who were learning to walk again. She began her study of engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she received a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering in 1987. Dr. van der Meulen continued her studies at Stanford University where she earned a master of science in mechanical engineering in 1989 and a doctorate in mechanical engineering in1993.
Dr. van der Meulen is also an associate professor at Cornell University’s Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Her research focuses on the human skeleton in the relatively new field of mechanobiology, which examines how mechanics influence biological systems. In the book’s section on bioengineering, called “Healthy Bodies, Creative Minds,” Dr. van der Meulen explains how her research on adolescent bone mass development could be applied to help prevent osteoporosis later in life.
“In contrast to models that focus primarily on the adaptation of dense bone, this research could result in a personalized exercise regimen designed to increase bone mass at specific regions of the skeleton where bone is lost with osteoporosis and to enhance bone around joint replacements,” she noted. Along with her colleagues at Cornell and Hospital for Special Surgery, Dr. van der Meulen is studying porous bone and its adaptation to mechanical load and hormonal manipulation.
Timothy Wright, Ph.D., director of the laboratory for biomedical mechanics and materials at Hospital for Special Surgery, said that the hospital is extremely fortunate to have Dr. van der Meulen on its research staff. “Marjolein is becoming one of the new leaders in her field,” Dr. Wright said. “She represents a new breed of biomedical engineer working in medicine; she knows engineering for sure, but she also understands biology and orthopedics, and she possesses a professional commitment to the musculoskeletal field.”
In addition to her research at Cornell and Hospital for Special Surgery, Dr. van der Meulen has also collaborated with Emily Holton, Ph.D., and Ruth Globus, Ph.D., at NASA to characterize changes in the load-bearing ability of bones as a result of the reduced forces experienced during spaceflight and to examine cellular mechanisms that may sense the altered forces. Past collaborations with the space agency earned her the NASA Graduate Student Research Fellowship and a NASA Ames Research Center Honor Award.
In 1995 Dr. van der Meulen received the National Institutes of Health FIRST Award and in 1999, the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Award. She serves on the board of associate editors for the Journal of Orthopaedic Research and has published widely in a variety of peer reviewed journals including Bone, Journal of Orthopaedic Research, and Journal of Rehabilitation Research Development.
Designed to encourage young women to become engineers, the book was launched at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., during Engineer’s Week. The book will be distributed primarily to school libraries and counseling centers.