James Butler

Senior Lecturer on Physiology

Department of Environmental Health

Department of Environmental Health

665 Huntington Avenue
Building I 3rd Floor
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617.432.1662


My research work is focused primarily on pulmonary physiology, ranging from cellular mechanics to whole organ studies and aerosol transport mechanisms.

At the cellular level, I work with a variety of methodologies that probe specific rheological features especially of the cytoskeleton, and how these are modulated and influenced by various agonists. This work encompasses both circulating and locomoting leukocytes as well as smooth muscle cells, and the molecular mechanisms associated with smooth muscle contractility.

At the organ level, we are studying various aspects of the fluid mechanics within the pleural space between the lung and the chest wall, and the mechanisms that influence lung deformation and pleural fluid redistribution and volume control. We have also actively investigated the role that surface tension plays in controlling acinar architecture. We are engaged in MRI studies of lung function using hyperpolarized noble gases, addressing fundamental questions of what can be quantified through its use in mapping local ventilation, perfusion, oxygen concentration, and airspace dimensions. Aerosol exposure and the exposure/dose relationships, especially of ultrafine particles that do not have significant impaction or gravitational sedimentation, remain important problems in public health. We have recently proposed a completely new mechanism, involving irreversible kinematics and chaotic trajectories, that may explain and unify a number of experimental observations. Our theory has been confirmed in a number of initial experiments, and we are extending this work to include variations associated with growth and development from newborns to adults.

Finally, I continue to work in applied mathematics, fluid and continuum mechanics, and comparative physiology from birds to whales.


Ph.D., 1974, Harvard University
M.A., 1968, Harvard University