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Introducing our new faculty members: Lindsay Fitzpatrick

Lindsay Fitzpatrick is a faculty member in the department of Chemical Engineering.

This profile is part of a series highlighting some of the new faculty members who have recently joined the Queen's community. The university is currently in the midst of the principal's faculty renewal plans, which will see 200 new faculty members hired over five years.

Lindsay Fitzpatrick (Chemical Engineering) sat down with the Gazette to talk about her experience so far. Dr. Fitzpatrick is an assistant professor.

[Queen's University Lindsay Fitzpatrick Engineering]
Lindsay Fitzpatrick is a faculty member in the department of Chemical Engineering. (University Communications)
Fast Facts about Dr. Fitzpatrick

Department: Chemical Engineering

Hometown: Timmins, Ont.

Alma mater: Georgia Institute of Technology (Post-doctorate), University of Toronto (chemical engineering doctorate) 

Research area: Biomedical and biomaterials engineering

Hobbies include: Cycling, triathlon, soccer, volleyball

Dr. Fitzpatrick’s web bio
How did you decide to become an engineer?

In high school, I really enjoyed calculus and science courses, like physics, chemistry and biology. Engineering seemed like the best fit for my interests, and I liked that I would have a professional degree at the end.

I started out in general engineering at McMaster and it just so happened that the first year they offered their chemical engineering and biosciences degree was the year that I was choosing my discipline. I was really interested in health sciences and how cells worked, so the chemical engineering approach to biomedical engineering seemed like a good fit and I decided to apply. I have loved it ever since I started.

The summer after my second year, I was lucky to start working in Heather Sheardown’s biomaterials lab at McMaster as a summer student and continued from there.

I have always been a bit oblivious to the ‘expectations’ or stereotypes placed on women, so I never saw going into a field like engineering as a boundary for me. My parents were always supportive of me doing whatever I wanted, and I didn’t know any engineers, so I had no idea that it was a field that girls typically didn’t go into. If I had, it probably would have just encouraged me further; I don’t really like being told that I can’t do something. I also had great role models in high school; all my calculus and science teachers (except physics) were women.

[Queen's University Lindsay Fitzpatrick Engineering]
Dr. Fitzpatrick maintains two labs - one in the Biosciences Complex (pictured), and one at the Kingston General Hospital. (University Communications)
Why did you decide to teach?

I have always enjoyed teaching and learning, and it is very rewarding to teach bright and enthusiastic students like the ones we have here at Queen’s. Working with our graduate and undergraduate students helps keep me motivated and enthusiastic as well.

It also forces you to stay on top of your game and stay current with information that is a bit outside of your specific research discipline. Now that I have a few years under my belt, I have also really enjoyed watching my former students and trainees mature and go on to do such exciting things. 

How are you enjoying being at Queen’s?

Queen’s has been a wonderful environment for a new professor and I have had a great experience so far. Starting out as an assistant professor is a pretty exciting but also daunting experience; there’s just so much you don’t know from teaching your first class to hiring your first student and setting up a lab. I’ve been very fortunate that my department is quite supportive and full of people who are there to help and want you to succeed.

I have been at Queen’s for just over four years now, although I’ve just come back from a maternity leave. My husband and I have really enjoyed living in Kingston – it has such a vibrant downtown, it is affordable, and is just a lovely place to live. Now that we have a baby, we are also recognizing all the benefits that Kingston offers for young families too.

What will you be teaching this academic year?

This fall, I am teaching a course I have not taught before – CHEE 452: Transport Phenomenon in Biological Systems. It is a fourth-year core course for our Bioengineering - Biochemical, Biomedical, Bioenvironmental Sub-plan (also known as CHE2) students.

The course gives our upper-year students the opportunity to apply their transport phenomenon knowledge – how mass, energy (heat), and momentum is transported within systems – to biological systems. We look at things like gas exchange in the lungs and in tissues, and pulsatile blood flow in compliant blood vessels.

We are actually applying some of the concepts from my masters by modeling how oxygen diffuses through tissues and is taken up by cells. This limits how large you can make tissue engineered constructs. We will be applying these concepts later in the term, understanding how the transport phenomena can impact the design of engineered tissues and how our bodies have developed vascular networks to overcome these types of diffusional limitations.

In the winter term, I will be teaching CHEE 340: Introduction to Biomedical Engineering. It is a precursor to the transport phenomenon course. This is a really fun class to teach, and my students really enjoy it too.

The course introduces students to the different aspects of human anatomy and physiology, and then we apply different types of engineering concepts to them. This course focuses on everything from transport phenomenon and fluid dynamics all the way to biomaterials and their applications to tissue engineering and stem cells. It is a survey course for that highlights different areas of biomedical engineering you can enter into through a degree in engineering.

Tell us a bit about your research.

My research focus is at the intersection of immunology and biomaterials research. We study how the cells of our immune system recognize and respond to implanted materials, like those you would use to construct a glucose sensor, pacemaker, or drug delivery system, and develop strategies for controlling the host response.

When any material is implanted, the cells of our immune system recognize that the material is foreign and tries to remove it through an inflammatory response called the foreign body reaction. This term describes a series of events that ultimately results in the implant being encased in abnormal fibrous tissue, sort like a scar forming around the implant.

For some applications this isn’t an issue, but many emerging biomedical technologies, like insulin infusion, glucose sensors, and neurostimulation probes rely on integration with healthy, normal tissue. Fibrous encapsulation of an implant, and the inflammatory response that precedes it, can limit the lifespan of devices, or cause them to fail prematurely.

We recently published our first paper in this area, which was really exciting. In it, we showed that when a material is implanted, danger signals that are released from damaged tissue and cells can adsorb on the material surface and activate responding immune cells via a receptor called Toll-like receptor 2.

By inhibiting this receptor’s signaling pathway, we were able to reduce the cells’ inflammatory response. However, this was all done using cells cultured in our lab, so we need to do more research to determine if this pathway plays a critical role in the foreign body reaction in living organism.

My second research stream is a bit more out there in terms of biomaterials research. We are looking at developing a new model system for looking at material cell interactions that uses zebrafish embryos as a model organism. By taking advantage of the optical transparency of zebrafish and reporter strains that have fluorescently-tagged cells or proteins, we can watch cell-material interactions in real time using fluorescence microscopy. However, zebrafish are really small, so we’re having to figure out how to implant materials in them in a reproducible and predictable way.

The idea is that we could then screen lots of different materials to give us a better fundamental understanding of what types of material properties trigger different types of responses, resulting in better material design.

It sounds like your work marries many different disciplines.
My training has allowed me to bridge different areas, primarily immunology and materials science. I am trying to build more collaborations with polymer scientists and immunologists here at Queen’s and eventually clinicians who work with patient populations that use implanted biomedical devices, like glucose sensors. 
What do you do for fun?

My husband’s family has a cottage near Bancroft, so we try to get up there as much as possible in the summer.

We all enjoy cycling and I was just getting into triathlons when got pregnant with my first child, which put a stop to that for now…although my husband just did his first half-ironman, so my daughter and I are becoming avid triathlon fans.

In the winter, I love to snowboard and cross-country ski. I used to play soccer and volleyball, but don’t seem to have the time anymore. Mostly, my free time is dedicated to playing with my daughter, Norah. She’s just turned one and is a wonderful and busy little girl!

I’m a total bookworm too. I grew up on The Lord of the Rings, so I have a definite a soft spot for epic fantasy sagas like Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson, and have just been reading The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay. It’s a bit a guilty pleasure.

Faculty Renewal

Principal Daniel Woolf has identified faculty renewal as a high priority for reinvestment by the university in support of the academic mission. The five-year renewal plan, launched in 2017, will see 200 new faculty hired, which nearly doubles the hiring pace of the previous six years.

Faculty renewal supports Queen’s commitment to diversity and inclusion by giving the university the opportunity to seek, proactively, representation from equity-seeking groups such as women, people with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples, and racialized individuals. It will also build on Queen’s current areas of research strength.

To learn more about the Principal’s faculty renewal plans, read this Gazette article. Stay tuned for additional new faculty profiles in the Gazette.