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Julia Ross


Dean, College of Engineering and Information Technology
Constellation Professor of Information Technology and Engineering

Contact Information

Information Technology and Engineering (ITE), Room 217D


Ph.D. Chemical Engineering – Rice University, 1995
B.S. Chemical Engineering – Purdue University, 1990

Research Interests

Microbial Adhesion and Biofilm Formation. My research interests involve the application of chemical engineering principles to solve questions concerning the molecular mechanisms of cell adhesion processes. The ultimate goal is to identify and understand molecular mechanisms involved in cell adhesion in order to manipulate either cells or surfaces to increase or prevent adhesion as desired.

Bacterial adherence to host tissues is the crucial first step in the development of many bacterial infections. The adhesion of bacteria is predominantly dependent on specific interactions between cell surface receptors and ligands in the host tissue.Staphylococcus aureus is involved in many infections of the cardiovascular system (e.g. vascular graft infection, endocarditis). The heavy use of antibiotics in treating S. aureus infections has led to a rapid rise in antibiotic resistance. Therefore, novel strategies to combat staphylococcal infections are becoming increasingly important. Because staphylococcal adherence often occurs under shear conditions in the cardiovascular system, the molecular surface characteristics of the bacteria and tissue (or biomaterial) will govern the probability of an adhesive interaction, while the local hemodynamics will determine the kinetics of the process.

S. aureus pathogenesis begins with adhesion, which can eventually lead to tissue colonization, biofilm formation and metastatic seeding through the bloodstream to other sites. Once a biofilm has developed, the ability of the host’s immune system to combat the infection is greatly reduced and antibiotic treatment becomes dramatically less effective. Chronic infection is often the result. While it is commonly known that bacteria growing as a biofilm are phenotypically different than planktonic cells, a fundamental and comprehensive understanding of how the phenotypes differ in staphylococci is lacking.

The broad objective of our research is to comprehensively characterize the molecular interactions between S. aureus and tissue/blood components as a function of the dynamic shear environment in order to provide a rational basis for the development of novel treatments to combat cardiovascular staphylococcal infections. In addition, we seek to characterize the structure, growth and maturation of S. aureus biofilms as well as the phenotypic similarities and differences between staphylococci grown as biofilm versus planktonic cells. Elucidation of these phenotypic differences may ultimately lead to the design of novel therapeutic strategies for staphylococcal biofilm prevention and control. A long-term goal of our work is to investigate the interrelationship between thrombogenesis (blood clot formation) and cardiovascular infection mechanisms.

Engineering Education. The need to recruit more students into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields in the U.S. is urgent. Although increased employment opportunities for engineering careers are forecast for the future, national enrollment in engineering disciplines has been declining. These diverging trends are likely to create a shortfall of trained engineers in the U.S. in the near future. In order to alter current enrollment trends, more students must be attracted to STEM careers and be prepared to pursue engineering study at the college level.

To meet these challenges, we are developing and implementing The INSPIRES Curriculum (INcreasing Student Participation, Interest and Recruitment in Engineering and Science). The INSPIRES Curriculum is comprised of five standards-based modular units for grades 9-12 that focus on integrating all areas of STEM. Our approach uses real-world engineering design challenges and inquiry-based learning strategies to engage students, increase technology literacy, and develop key skills foundational for success in STEM disciplines. Research questions focus on identifying strategies and curriculum features that best promote student learning of integrated STEM content. Professional development for high school teachers is a key element of our work.

Selected Publications

Acosta, M, Velasquez, M, Williams, K, Ross, JM, and Leach, J. Fluorescent silica particles for measuring oxygen levels in three-dimensional cellular structures. Submitted.

Ross, JM, and Bayles TM. Lessons Learned during Teacher Professional Development Pilot Program – Impact on Curriculum Teacher’s Guide Development & Future Professional Development Institute. Proceedings of the Frontiers in Education Annual Conference, 2011.

Au, N, Ross, JM, and Bayles, TM. Engineering energy solutions for the INSPIRES curriculum. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference, 2009.

Johnson, MA, and Ross, JM. Staphylococcal presence alters thrombus formation under physiological shear conditions in whole blood studies. Ann Biomed Eng, 36:349-55, 2008. [PMID: 18197476]

Monterestelli, T, Bayles, TM, and Ross, JM. High school outreach program: attracting young ladies with ‘Engineering in Health Care’. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference, 2008.

Au, N, Bayles, TM, and Ross, JM. Exposing chemical engineering students to real world problems: health care and renewable energy systems Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference, 2008.

George, NPE, Konstantopoulos, K, and Ross, JM. Differential kinetics and molecular recognition mechanisms involved in early versus late growth phase S. aureus cell binding to platelets under physiological shear conditions. J Infect Dis, 196:639-46, 2007. [PMID: 17624852]

Ymele-Leki, P, and Ross, JM. Erosion from Staphylococcus aureus biofilms grown under physiologically relevant fluid shear yields bacterial cells with reduced avidity to collagen. Appl Env Microbiol, 73:1834-41, 2007. [PMID: 17277217]

George, NPE, Shin, PK, Wei, Q, Konstantopoulos, K, and Ross, JM. Staphylococcus aureus adhesion via Spa, ClfA and SdrCDE to immobilized platelets demonstrates shear dependent behavior. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol, 26:2394-2400, 2006. [PMID: 16857949]

Shin, PK, Pawar, P, Konstantopoulos, K, and Ross, JM. Characteristics of a new Staphylococcus aureus-RBC adhesion mechanism independent of fibrinogen and immunoglobulin G under hydrodynamic shear conditions. Am J Physiol Cell Physiol, 289:C727-34, 2005. [PMID: 15888554]

Nandakumar, R, Madayiputhiya, N, Marten, MR, and Ross, JM. Proteome analysis of cell wall associated proteins from Staphylococcus aureus: Lysis and sample preparation protocols. J Proteome Res, 4:250-7, 2005. [PMID: 15822900]