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Ph.D. Program

Biomedical Engineering and Physiology Track

The human body is complex and fragile, at risk of developing any number of conditions like joint disease or nerve or muscle injury. As we age, body tissues break down and lose vital functions. Through studying the human body to understand how it works, biomedical scientist teams of engineers, clinicians and other scientists are at the front lines developing novel approaches to treat and prevent human illness.

The Biomedical Engineering and Physiology Track within the Ph.D. Program at Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Science is built on a foundation of world-renowned research programs and courses with real-world relevance. Collaboration with faculty and clinicians from a wide variety of disciplines provide you with the support and guidance you need to succeed.

As a student, you’ll have several areas of emphasis to choose from:

  • Biomechanics. Biomechanics involves the study of structure and function of biological systems and artificial tissue interactions using the principles of mechanics, material science and physiology. Some of the methods used include tissue scaffolding, materials testing, mechanical modeling, imaging of motion and joint mechanics.

    Examples of recent projects include study of fracture mechanics in aging vertebrae, measurement of passive muscle stiffness in children with cerebral palsy, modeling of cartilage regrowth and postural analysis of wheelchair users.
  • Biomedical imaging. Biomedical imaging advances the design and application of imaging techniques to improve disease diagnosis and staging, as well as treatment planning, delivery and assessment. The faculty and students at Mayo work in many modalities, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), X-ray computed tomography (CT), ultrasound, positron emission tomography (PET), radiation therapy and molecular breast imaging, as well as image processing and visualization and imaging informatics.

    Relationships with industry allow access to the latest medical imaging technology before it is commercially available, and techniques developed here are often licensed by industry for use in future products.
  • Molecular biophysics and biosensing. Molecular biophysics and biosensing applies principles of physics, chemistry and mathematics to study biomolecules that underlie function of cells, organs and organisms. Research interests include the structure and function of proteins and protein assemblies in live cells and model organisms with applications to ion channels, transporters, molecular motors, and biosensing technologies.

    Strengths in basic and translational research include monitoring single biomolecule function in real time, linking protein dynamic motions to disease phenotypes, and biophysical and computational characterization of small molecule effectors targeting protein function in models of human diseases.
  • Physiology. Physiology addresses complex biological systems from molecular and cellular to tissue and organismal principles that govern their function. An assortment of novel and state-of-the-art techniques and tools are used to investigate the mechanisms of diseases and novel pathways with therapeutic potential, as well as the engineering tools necessary to develop and optimize tissue and organ regeneration.

    Physiology at Mayo integrates basic, clinical and translational research that builds on a strong tradition of "bench-to-bedside" and "bedside-to-bench" investigation. Studies are conducted on cell, tissue and animal models, including humans in the lab setting and even in the course of living their daily lives using innovative remote physiological monitoring tools.


The Biomedical Engineering and Physiology curriculum is designed to provide you with the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in your research and future career. The curriculum focuses on an integrative approach to learning by applying engineering concepts in the context of physiological systems.

Years 1-2

During the first year of study, all students complete the core curriculum designed to provide you with a firm foundation in biomedical engineering and physiology concepts. You then move on to more advanced courses that are directly related to your chosen research project.

During the first year, you’ll complete small research projects in three different laboratories. These lab rotations are set up to help you select a thesis adviser based on your scientific interests and goals.

Qualifying exams consisting of both a written and oral component are completed at the end of the first year and during the second year, respectively.

Years 3-5+

After completing the curriculum and passing the qualifying exam, you’ll focus on your thesis research.

You’re encouraged to apply for external funding and to attend and present at national and international scientific meetings. Effective communication is an essential skill, and our curriculum is designed to develop and enhance both oral and written communication proficiency. You’ll have the opportunity to present in the classroom, weekly seminars, lab meetings and small group tutorials, as well as at scientific meetings.

You’ll assemble a thesis committee made up of experts from Mayo Clinic and other institutions that facilitate and guide your education and research. Reflecting the collaborative and highly interdisciplinary environment at Mayo, most thesis committees are made up of researchers and clinicians from a variety of departments.

Recent thesis topics


  • “Functional Impact of Phrenic Motor Neuron Loss,” Obaid Khurram, Ph.D. (Mentor: Carlos Mantilla, M.D., Ph.D.)


  • “The Effect of Healthy Aging on Pulmonary Vascular Function," Kirsten E. Coffman, Ph.D. (Mentor: Bruce D. Johnson, Ph.D.)
  • "Characterization of the Anisotropic and Nonlinear Properties of the Kidney Using Shear Wave Elastography," Sara Aristizabal, Ph.D. (Mentor: Matthew Urban, Ph.D.)
  • "Targeting Motoneurons Using Mesoporous Silica Nanoparticles," Maria Gonzalez, Ph.D. (Mentor: Carlos Mantilla, M.D., Ph.D.)
  • "Shear Wave Elastography with a Continuously Vibrating Probe," Daniel Mellema, Ph.D. (Mentor: Shigao Chen, Ph.D.)
  • "The Impact of Pulmonary Congestion on Lung Structure and Function in Heart Failure," Steven C. Chase, Ph.D. (Mentor: Bruce D. Johnson, Ph.D.)
  • "Characterization of Relative Biological Effectiveness (RBE) for Proton Therapy in Human Cancer Cell Lines," Michelle E. Howard, Ph.D. (Mentor: Michael G. Herman, Ph.D.)
  • "Artifact Correction for High-Performance MRI Gradient Systems," Shengzhen Tao, Ph.D. (Mentor: Matt A. Bernstein, Ph.D.)
  • "Engineered Esophageal Regeneration," Johnathon M. Aho, Ph.D. (Mentor: Daniel J. Tschumperlin, Ph.D.)
  • "Advancing Skeletal Muscle Force Assessment Using Animal and Human Models," Loribeth Q. Evertz, Ph.D. (Mentor: Kenton R. Kaufman, Ph.D.)
  • "Electrophysiologic Biomarkers of Epileptogenic Brain," Brent M. Berry, Ph.D. (Mentors: Gregory Worrell, M.D., Ph.D., and Gary Sieck, Ph.D.)


  • "Cellular Mechanisms of Cardiac Contractile Dysfunction in Response to Hypothermia and Rewarming," Niccole Schaible, Ph.D. (Mentor: Gary Sieck, Ph.D.)
  • "Accurate Quantification of Percent Area Luminal Stenosis Using Material Decomposition and a Whole-Body Research Photon Counting Multi-Energy CT System," Zhoubo Li, Ph.D. (Mentor: Cynthia H. McCollough, Ph.D.)
  • "Investigation of Motor Control Through Simultaneous Measurement of Force, Electromyography, and Intramuscular Pressure," Shanette Go, Ph.D. (Mentor: Kenton R. Kaufman, Ph.D.)


  • “Assessment of Early Tumor Response to Chemotherapy Using Magnetic Resonance Elastography," Kay Pepin, Ph.D. (Mentor: Kiaran P. McGee, Ph.D.)
  • "Intramuscular Pressure and Strain in Skeletal Muscle," Elisabeth Jensen, Ph.D. (Mentor: Kenton R. Kaufman, Ph.D.)
  • "Quantification of the Mechanical Response of the Spine to Shear Vibration and Correlation to Intervertebral Disc Disease," Ephraim Ben-Abraham, Ph.D. (Mentor: Richard L. Ehman, M.D.)
  • "The Effect of Hydrodynamic Environment on Periosteal Chondrogenesis," Michelle E. Taylor, Ph.D. (Mentor: Michael J. Yaszemski, M.D., Ph.D.)
  • "Effects of Hyperoxia and Mechanical Strain on Developing Human Airway Smooth Muscle," Elizabeth Vogel, Ph.D. (Mentor: Christina Pabelick, M.D.)

Your future

Many former Biomedical Engineering and Physiology students now hold faculty positions at leading universities (Stanford, Vanderbilt, Tulane, Ohio State, Washington University, University of Southern California and Mayo Clinic) and leadership positions in industry (General Electric, Siemens, Philips and Merck) and government (National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration). Two are currently presidents of small companies.

Meet the director

Carlos Mantilla, M.D., Ph.D.

Welcome to our Biomedical Engineering and Physiology Track. This program provides a rigorous academic schedule and a dynamic learning environment that emphasizes problem solving, critical thinking and communication skills.

At Mayo Clinic, you’ll experience a unique academic environment built on a spirit of teamwork and collaboration, world-class researchers, and interaction with the world's largest integrated group practice of medicine.

Our mission is to prepare the next generation of biomedical scientists through integration of theory, methodology and research within a world-renowned clinical, basic science and translational setting — all of which come together to provide an unparalleled graduate school experience.

Carlos Mantilla, M.D., Ph.D.
Biomedical Engineering and Physiology Track Director
Professor of Anesthesiology and Physiology
Phone: 507-255-0993
See research interests


Browse a list of Biomedical Engineering and Physiology Track faculty members