Better Bio Materials

For this week’s featured ENGS project, I spoke to Kirsten Seagers ’15 and Julia Zaskorski ’14 about the project they’ve been working on throughout the spring term.

Julia and Kirsten are both taking ENGS 24: Science of Materials, taught by Jifeng Liu. The class seeks to introduce students to the “structure/property relationships, which govern the mechanical, the thermal, and the electrical behavior of solids (ceramics, metals, and polymers).” The class “topics include atomic, crystalline, and amorphous structures; X-ray diffraction; imperfections in crystals; phase diagrams; phase transformations; elastic and plastic deformation; free electron theory and band theory of solids; electrical conduction in metals and semi-conductors. The laboratory consists of an experimental project selected by the students and approved by the instructor.”

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Kirsten Seagers ’15 hard at work

In the class students strive to look at how chemical composition influences the behavior of certain materials experimentally. Kirsten says she enjoys the class because she “loves looking at the way in which bio materials change with exposure to certain chemical compounds.” She says she was interested in this class because she had been exposed to biomaterials and the challenges they pose at the medical lab where she works. The class, she thought, could provide her with a “better background with which she can better  understand the properties of materials that could potentially be used in medical applications.”

The objective of the project the group undertook was to determine the way in which carbon fiber reacts to the human body’s environment.  Because carbon fiber components are sometimes used as bone scaffolding in the body, this project has multiple real world applications.The group is attempting to optimize combinations of carbon fiber and different types of cement for use in the body.

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Julia and Kirsten’s synthetic scaffolding consists of layers of dental acrylic and carbon fiber sheets

Julia says that instead of using the usual epoxy resin between carbon fiber layers, they’re using dental acrylic to model bone cement. They soaked the combination in regular water, and a saline solution that matches body salinity and temperature. The group aims to find out how the different liquids affect the carbon fiber’s flexibility and strength.

Julia and Kirsten are working with three others in their group: Laura Vang ’15, Chrissy Bettencourt ’13, Karina Packer ’15.

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