Kelly Burke is trained as a chemical engineer and polymer scientist with expertise in biomaterials. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Connecticut, and a core member of the Polymer Program in the Institute of Materials Science. She is also a member of the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the University of Connecticut Stem Cell Institute. Her research seeks to understand how biomaterials can be used to direct the behavior of the cells and extracellular matrices that form human tissues, with particular interest in the soft tissues of the gastrointestinal tract that have been damaged by disease and trauma. By designing new materials that interface with these biological environments, she aims to answer questions about how polymers can be used to affect the polarization of immune cells and fibroblasts, the success of stem cell differentiation, and the types, quality, and quantity of extracellular matrix deposited.
Kelly previously served as a postdoctoral fellow with Prof. David Kaplan in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Tufts University. Her research focused on two main project areas: synthetic methods to modify proteins and 3D in vitro tissue models. She was awarded a NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein Postdoctoral Fellowship for her work on 3D models of inflamed adipose tissue, which involved the culture of human stem cells differentiated into adipocytes with primary macrophages to generate long term disease models relevant to type 2 diabetes and obesity. Kelly completed her Ph.D. in Macromolecular Science and Engineering from Case Western Reserve University in 2010. As a graduate student and NSF Graduate Research Fellow in the laboratory of Prof. Patrick Mather, she designed main-chain liquid crystalline polymers based on polysiloxanes for soft shape memory materials, for which she received graduate student research awards from the American Chemical Society and the Materials Research Society. Kelly earned her bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Connecticut in 2005, where she completed an honors thesis on well-defined organic-inorganic thermoplastic polyurethanes for biomedical uses.
When she is not working on research and teaching, Kelly enjoys outdoor activities, especially running, playing tennis, and gardening. She loves playing cribbage, being overconfident about her miniature golf skills (especially against her husband), playing blocks with her kids, and babysitting her dog sister, Miss Penny.