Grace O’Connell’s engineering education began with breaking things. “Whenever anything broke in our house, before we threw it out, my dad would say, ‘Let’s take it apart just to look inside.’ Because it was already broken, we could break it even more. That was a lot of fun.” She’s parlayed that childlike curiosity into a distinguished career in biomechanics and tissue engineering, applying mechanical engineering principles and regenerative medicine strategies to repair damaged tissues in the body. In particular, she’s studying soft tissue degeneration. She looks at the mechanical function of native tissue to try to mimic this function in the biological analog tissues that her lab creates. Among the many people who will benefit from her research are the approximately 80% of adults who experience back pain.
O’Connell is also an associate professor of mechanical engineering and the Don M. Cunningham Endowed Professor of Mechanical Engineering. Her broader research interests include the biomechanics of cartilage and intervertebral disc; tissue engineering; continuum modeling of soft tissues; and intervertebral disc function, degeneration and regeneration.