A Vital Barrier
A superhero who harnesses the power of mucus? Unlikely though it may sound, that’s one way Katharina Ribbeck hopes to raise public awareness of her field of research. Until recently, little federal grant funding existed for the study of mucus, yet it is a vital barrier in the human body, allowing or excluding certain molecules and pathogens. Driven in part by Ribbeck’s own research, the field is rapidly growing. Ribbeck, who is the Eugene Bell Career Development Professor of Tissue Engineering in the Department of Biological Engineering, has relied on funds from her professorship to scout out new scientific terrain as well as ways to communicate it. “It’s a new topic, so it requires new tools and approaches, and much of that has to be supported by nontraditional funds, at least until we have enough data to qualify for federal funding,” Ribbeck says. In addition to enabling scientific exploration, the professorship has allowed her to hire an illustrator for her children’s book manuscript, featuring that mucus-empowered superhero.