OBRL Summer Internship Program: Exposing High School Students to the Fields of Bioengineering

For the past five summers, ME’s Orthopaedic Bioengineering Research Laboratory has hosted a group of high school interns who are given the unique opportunity to dive into the world of bioengineering at CSU. “This internship program gives high school students a chance to interact with undergraduate students, graduate students, and academics in a dynamic research environment,” said

Dr. Kirk McGilvray, an assistant research professor at the OBRL, who spearheads this program each summer. The curriculum includes the use of cutting-edge research methods to assess basic science questions. Students are exposed to a wide spectrum of techniques including dissection, biomechanical testing, fabrication, data collection and processing, statistical analyses, and report generation. “It’s rewarding to see young minds eager to learn about this influential field of science,” Dr. McGilvray said.

The internship program was initiated when ME Professor Christian Puttlitz received a grant from NASA that required the presence of high school students. When that project concluded, Dr. McGilvray decided it was important to continue exposing high school students to bioengineering since most are not aware of its basic concepts. Currently, Drs. Puttlitz and McGilvray run the program together and are thrilled to see many of their interns accepted into engineering and pre-med programs across the country.

Past interns have possessed a strong desire to conduct research and are self-starters. They either contacted Dr. McGilvray or Dr. Puttlitz directly or were directed to the program through their teachers who observed their enthusiasm for science.

If you are interested or know someone who would make a great fit, please contact Dr. McGilvray for an interview:
Kirk. McGilvray@Colostate.edu.

ME Undergrad Participates in the National FIREX Campaign

ME undergraduate student, Liam Lewane, recently shared his latest project at a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Research campaign, addressing environmental air quality.

Liam Lewane

Lewane is a student in Dr. Shantanu Jathar’s Laboratory for Air Quality Research, and recently participated in the NOAA Fire Influence on Regional and Global Environments Experiment in Missoula, Mont. “Liam is an exceptional student with an extraordinary ability to do experimental research work,” Dr. Jathar said.

The FIREX campaign included researchers from a variety of universities and organizations collaborating to study emissions and their impact on our atmosphere.

“I first became aware of the campaign when Dr. Jathar described it to me while I was developing the smog chamber. It was a fantastic opportunity, not only getting to design and build an instrument like the smog chamber, but to get to use it in a research campaign that addresses what is becoming more and more of a problem in the world. I couldn’t pass it up,” Lewane said.

The chamber being set up at the FIREX campaign last October at the Fire Science Lab in Missoula, Mont.

The purpose of a smog chamber is to provide a controlled environment in which to study atmospheric chemistry processes – specifically the formation and aging of fine particle pollution. The chamber is a large, 10-cubic-meter, Teflon bag suspended in a temperature-controlled enclosure. Emissions from energy and combustion sources are injected into the chamber and reacted with oxidants, simulating chemical processes similar to the Earth’s atmosphere. The contents of the chamber are then blasted with ultraviolet light delivered via light banks installed inside the enclosure. For certain experiments, the enclosure walls can be removed so the chamber is exposed to direct sunlight. The light initiates photochemical reactions in the chamber similar to what occurs in the atmosphere during daylight hours. Over the course of an experiment, the contents of the chamber are monitored.

The chamber was designed to be mobile, so it can be disassembled and transported to different locations. Lewane’s chamber features a system to reduce chamber volume, which shortens the time it takes to clean the chamber after each experiment. This innovative feature may revolutionize the way smog chambers are built in the future. Lewane will also be credited as coauthor on some of the resulting FIREX research literature, which is a major accomplishment for an undergraduate student.

After graduation in 2018, Lewane would like to enter the energy industry and focus on making renewable energy technology more efficient and accessible. He is also considering joining Engineers Without Borders. “Before any of that though, I’m pretty sure the first thing I’ll do after graduation is get a good night’s sleep,” Lewane said.

With so many tremendous accomplishments under his belt already, it is hard to fathom what the future holds for this motivated young student. Congratulations, Liam!

ME Developed Air Samplers are Spacebound

Mechanical engineering Professor John Volckens and research scientist Dan Miller-Lionberg with the thermophoretic sampler.

Dr. John Volckens, ME professor and CSU Energy Institute Researcher, is about to see his lab’s latest development launch into space, and collect data aboard the International Space Station.

Figure 1Mechanical engineering professor John Volckens and research scientist Dan Miller-Lionberg with the thermophoretic sampler

The TPS100 (thermophoretic sampler), is an air sampler will that collect dust particles that pollute the air quality in the ISS. Astronauts have reported eye irritation and other allergies even with the presence of high-efficiency air filters installed on the air returns. The issue is magnified in space because dust particles float in the air, as opposed to settling due to gravity, like on Earth.

“When you hear the words ‘dust in space’ you probably think about fragments of meteorites or other cosmic material,” Volckens said. “It turns out that [the air inside] space stations gets dusty, just like our homes here on Earth, from humans living there.”

Developed with funding from the National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health, the TPS100 was designed collaboratively by CSU and RJ Lee Group, an analytical microscropy company out of Pittsburgh. The concept originated in Dr. Volckens’ lab several years ago with a wearable TPS, meant for forensic-type analysis of human exposure to airborne particles. It became the TPS100 when Dr. Volckens and RJ Lee Group, including senior scientist Gary Casuccio, formed a partnership and developed a commercially viable version of the TPS, offering zero gravity and portable functionality, ideal for space conditions.

Dan Miller-Lionberg of Dr. Volckens’ lab, received his masters in engineering at CSU, and was the principal mechanical designer of the TPS100, and also led efforts in getting this product commercially-ready. “Simply put, this technology is ideally suited to meet NASA’s needs for particle sampling and characterization in a lightweight, portable package,” Miller-Lionberg said.

One of the thermophoretic samplers that is specially designed for a NASA air-sampling mission

NASA Scientist, Marit Meyer was in search of a product like the TPS100 when she met Casuccio at an aerosol conference a few years ago. “The RJ Lee Group had an ideal sampler I was looking for in the TPS100: a portable collection device based on an operating principle that is compatible with low gravity,” she said.

The NASA Advanced Exploration Systems Life Support Systems Project is funding the 32-day experiment, and Marit hopes it’ll lead to a fast, cost-effective solution.

We look forward to sharing the results of this experiment when the two TPS100 samplers return to Earth for analysis.

Scott Kelleher, MS ’17, Receives Graduate Research Innovation Fellowship from the Joint Fire Science Program

Scott Kelleher conducts his research in the most adverse of conditions, at the scene of prescribed wildfires in Colorado. With the help of his advisor, Dr. John Volckens, and dedicated lab members, Kelleher developed a cost-effective air sampler to monitor wildfire smoke. The data collected will analyze smoke’s effect on human health.

Kelleher, a graduate of Montana Tech, grew up on a beef cattle, wheat, and barley farm near the Canadian Border and became intrigued by potential benefits that advanced engineering practices could have in rural environments. Joining Dr. Volckens’ lab at CSU was the perfect opportunity to put his passion to work.

“The long-term goals of this project are very motivating. It’s applying science and technology in an affordable new way to make the lives of those responsible for monitoring smoke much easier, with the main thought of protecting public health in mind,” Kelleher said.

To see his innovation in action, Kelleher recently spent two weeks in southern Colorado at the perimeter of a 6,000-acre burn where he set up 13 air samplers. His air sampler is based off the design of an Ultrasonic Personal Aerosol Sampler (UPAS) developed In Dr. Volckens’ lab. Kelleher’s version of the sampler can be operated entirely from a smart phone and includes a hardened enclosure for weatherproofing, a solar cell for charging an extended-life battery, and a gravimetric analysis device that collects particles onto a filter which is later weighed and analyzed for particulate matter concentrations. It also includes a real-time optical particle sensor that tracks the diameter of smoke particles. Capturing this data is crucial in detecting if the diameter of the particles are small enough to penetrate human lungs.

Monitors currently used in the field cost upwards of $10,000 to $20,000, but Kelleher’s sensor is roughly $500.

Last fall, Kelleher presented his findings at the Second International Smoke Symposium in Long Beach, Calif. The remainder of his thesis will be made of up additional prescribed burn experiments and a thorough investigation of the data collected.

“Hopefully, one day, my technology will enable anyone worried about air pollution to conduct monitoring right in their backyard.” After graduation, Kelleher hopes to impact farmers and small businesses with his technology, coming full circle to his early days on the farm.

Dr. Kirk McGilvray Receives $3.2M NIH Grant to Research Fracture Healing

Mechanical Engineering Assistant Research Professor, Dr. Kirk McGilvray of the Orthopaedic Bioengineering Research Laboratory (OBRL) received a $3.2M grant from the NIH to study fracture healing prediction.


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Almost 800,000 patients face abnormal fracture healing each year in the United States alone, leading to chronic conditions associated with pain and disability. With the inability to detect or predict if a fracture is progressing towards a full recovery during the vitally important early treatment stages, it is nearly impossible to diagnose and then prevent abnormal, post-operative healing.

There is currently a high clinical demand for diagnosing early and abnormal fracture healing, and the absence of this strategy is a major obstacle in the orthopaedic field. With increased knowledge, measures like additional surgery or therapies could be taken, resulting in greater efficacy.

Fractures that involve a significant disturbance to the blood supply are the most prone to abnormal healing; specifically, diaphyseal and metaphyseal fractures caused by high-energy trauma incidents like car accidents, sports injuries, or falls from a height.

The two most popular surgical methods for treating diaphyseal fractures involves placement of either contoured plates or intramedullary nails; both offering safe and minimally invasive techniques. Metaphyseal fractures are commonly treated with plate fixation. Implant stiffness plays a significant role during healing, as currently there is no way to determine if the implant is loaded within the correct range; if the implant is too stiff or flexible, the underlying fracture is susceptible to incorrect healing.

Dr. McGilvray, and his mentor, ME Professor, Dr. Christian Puttlitz, have shed immense light on this issue and developed a biocompatible, microelectromechanical system, or bioMEMs sensor that can be attached to metal implants, and telemetrically reports data regarding the in vivo mechanical environment of the implant-bone construct, providing predictions of a fracture’s healing cascade. If the strain on the implant decreases, the bone is supporting more of the load and healing efficiently, however, if the strain borne by the implant plateaus or increases, the bone is most likely healing incorrectly. Consequently, this new technology provides higher quantitative diagnostic information as to the course of healing during the critically important initial post-operative period when adjunct therapies are the most effective.

This NIH grant seeks to extend the bioMEMs sensor technology by further enhancing this already impressive technology to resolve fracture cases with a higher incident of failure.

Dr. McGilvray, the principal investigator and Dr. Puttlitz, the co-investigator are researching effects of placing multiple sensors in close proximity to one another, allowing a deeper look into not just the fracture site, but adjacent healthy bone where implant failure is also possible. This data is crucial, not only to the patient on the table, but to future patients who may be able to utilize the next generation of implants that have a more strategic design, thanks to the results of this significant research.

In addition to that, Drs. McGilvray and Puttlitz are developing sensors that are flexible, as opposed to the ridged material used in their previous studies. This will allow a sensor to attachment to curved constructs, allowing for a larger range of implant placement, generating novel clinically relevant in vivo data.

We look forward to sharing Drs. McGilvray’s and Puttlitz’s contributions to the field of orthopaedics in on our website and in upcoming publications.

The Future of Hearing Aid Technology Is Here

Hearing Impaired, ME Student of Gonzaga University, Paxson Matthews, becomes first person to test groundbreaking hearing aid technology, and joins Colorado State University as an intern.

Last Spring, we covered an inspiring story on a revolutionary mouthpiece developed to assist the hearing impaired, allowing sound to be processed through the tongue, instead of the ear.

One year later, the device is turning another corner, thanks to Gonzaga University ME student, Paxson Matthews, whose personal experience with hearing loss motivated him to reach out to the Sapien-CSU team at Colorado State University.

Matthews was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis Type II, at age 6. Tumors that grow on his central nervous system inhibit his ability to hear. Majority of the hearing aid devices currently available, don’t address neurological disorders which is what Matthews has. After countless surgeries, one being 40 hours long, Matthews discovered issues with each hearing device he tried.

Joining forces with the Sapien-CSU team seemed like the ideal fit for Matthews, both personally and professionally. As an intern, he is testing the device and using his first-hand experiences to further develop the technology.

“My goal is to help people. I’ve had a lot of help along my journey and I want to show everyone that their investment was worth it. I hope we can all work together and change the world,” said Matthews.

Matthews has plans to integrate electromagnetic communication and smart phone technology to improve the functionality of the device. If the integration of these technologies goes according to plan, a smartphone would pick up an audio signal and process that signal into an electrical format. The signal would then be transmitted through the body tissue using proprietary technology, and received by the mouthpiece using much less power than Bluetooth communication, which is how the device currently operates.

Mathews is working on a design that may eliminate the need for a battery in the mouthpiece altogether. His collaborators and advisers on the project are encouraging him to file a patent application for his idea.

The Sapien-CSU team, including ME Professor John Williams, Assistant Professor Leslie Stone-Roy of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, graduate students JJ Moritz and Marco Martinez, and electrical engineering industry professional, Matthew Schultz,  are thrilled to welcome Matthews to the team and look forward to the potential advances in store for this revolutionary device.

NSF-Sponsored IRES Project Investigates Development of Prosthetic Devices in Developing Countries


Dr. Tammy Haut Donahue (second from right) with nurses from the hospital.

In developing countries, the occurrence of missing limbs due to amputations from infection, farming accidents, or landmine incidents is significantly higher than in the U.S., particularly in India, where one in 56 individuals is an amputee, compared to one in 22,000 in the U.S. Amputee sufferers in remote areas of India don’t have the access or the financial means to obtain prosthetic devices engineered in the western world. Dr. P.K. Sethi of the Rehabilitation & Jaipur Limb Training Centre in Jaipur, India, recognized the severe need for a solution and developed the highly successful Jaipur Foot in the 1970s.

The International Research Experience for Students Program (IRES) at the National Science Foundation is sponsoring a three-year project to significantly advance the technology and production techniques of the Jaipur Foot, and potentially transform the way prosthetic devices are designed in the developing world. Various design and production constraints in a country such as India will be one of the main challenges.


Cross-section of the Jaipur Foot

The U.S.-India Collaborative Research in Mechanical, Biomedical, and Materials Science Engineering for Undergraduates is a joint research project between Ohio State and Colorado State universities, in conjunction with Malaviya National Institute of Technology and the Santokba Durlabhji Memorial Hospital, in Jaipur, India.

Mechanical engineering professor, Dr. Tammy Haut Donahue, IRES researcher, has extended internship positions to two all-star mechanical engineering students to take part in this revolutionary project. Undergrads Ian Huber and Jacob Wolynski will join with two other undergraduates from Ohio State, and the four will spend 12 weeks in India. Two CSU graduate students, Benjamin Wheatley, ME, and Kristine Fischenich, SBME, are also involved with advising the undergraduates and traveling with the students to India.

The project immerses the undergraduates in a research project that expands their global experience and enables them to enrich their undergraduate training. Learning to
live and work in a drastically different culture is one of the objectives of the program. The students will work with local orthopedic surgeons on the research and will interact
with many Jaipur Foot patients. “This is an amazing opportunity for the students to explore research opportunities and life in another culture. Not many undergraduates get this opportunity,” said Dr. Haut Donahue.


Students ride elephants to an Indian palace in Jaipur.

The Jaipur Foot offers a variety of benefits to its patients. It’s a lowcost device that has a lifelike appearance that, most importantly, can be worn barefoot, allowing patients to enter a temple, and, with its durable rubber sole, enabling them to walk on uneven surfaces and roads. It can also be worn with sandals, which is the most common type of shoe in India.

Today, the Jaipur Foot is handcrafted by highly experienced workers who craft two or three feet a day. This production process has inhibited growth and expansion, limiting its potential to ease suffering in other developing countries. A detailed understanding of the components used to make the foot is key, as it will enable opportunities for mass production, which is one of the areas where the NSF fund will make its mark.


The Mechanics of Osteoarthritis

Mechanics of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a dehabilitating disease that afflicts millions of Americans and is a growing epidemic. Of particular interest to Dr. Tammy Haut Donahue and her laboratory is the role of knee joint meniscal tissue in the development and progression of osteoarthritis.  Work in the Orthopaedic Bioengineering Research Laboratory at CSU directed by Prof. Haut Donahue aims to develop effective therapies for treating occult damage to the soft tissues of the knee joint following post-traumatic osteoarthritis. Additionally, tissue engineered replacements for connecting the soft tissue to underlying hard bone are being developed by Haut Donahue for knee joint damage.  These replacement interfaces are being developed jointly by Haut Donahue, Dr. Ketul Popat also from CSU, and collaborators from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland and Queens University in Belfast. The replacements will recapitulate the native tissue interface and use unique biomaterials for scaffolds as well as aligned nanofibers.  Students working on these projects use both computational and experimental techniques such as mechanical testing, biochemical assays and the finite element method to understand how the healthy human body works and how we might recapitulate developmental processes to formulate new tissues to repair or replace damaged tissue.

Nanotechnology for Biomedical Applications

Pipetting Liver CellsSurfaces that contain micro- and nanoscale features in a well-controlled and “engineered” manner have been shown to significantly affect cellular and subcellular function.  Within the auspices of the our research program, we are developing, refining and extending select fabrication routes for producing materials with controlled nanoarchitecture and bioactivity, potentially moving us closer to the goal of biointegration.

Of great interest is the creation of controlled micro- and nanoarchitectures in an attempt to mimic the natural physical and biological environment that encourages tissue regeneration and growth.  The hypothesis is that the nanoarchitectures can promote cell differentiation and functionality. Moreover, the ability to create model nanodimensional constructs that mimic physiological systems can aid in studying complex tissue interactions in terms of cell communication, response to matrix geometry, and effects of external chemical stimuli.

By understanding how physical surface parameters influence cellular adhesion and differentiation we can more effectively design biomaterial surfaces for variety of tissue engineering applications.  Further, nanostructured materials can be used as drug eluting interfaces for implantable devices, such as vascular stents, orthopedic implants, dental implants, etc.  By precisely controlling the size of nanoarcitecture, we can manipulate the release rates; thus releasing the drug at physiological levels.


Hear…With Your Tongue?

Graduate Student J.J. Adrian Moritz, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Sciences Leslie Stone-Roy and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering John Williams demonstrate equipment used to map sensitivity in the human tongue. January 7, 2015Mechanical engineering Associate Professor John Williams is on the verge of a major medical breakthrough that over the last few months has captured a frenzy of media attention from all over the country. Professor Williams and his team are working on a revolutionary device to assist the hearing impaired, allowing sound to be processed through the tongue, instead of the ear.

Typically, the hearing impaired would use a hearing aid to amplify sound or a surgically implanted cochlear implant to stimulate the auditory nerve. Depending on the severity of the case, this new device would eliminate surgery, be significantly less expensive, and be just as effective in aiding those who have hearing loss.

“Cochlear implants can be upwards of $40,000, and including training can be even more expensive,” Professor Williams said. “What we’re shooting for is something in the few thousands of dollars that could work as good or even better.” Other drawbacks to having cochlear implants is the inherently risky procedure, the additional damage they can cause to the inner ear, and candidates must have most of their auditory system intact for the implants to do their job.

So, how does the new device work? Users push their tongues against a retainer-like mouthpiece packed with tiny electrodes to feel a pattern of Bluetooth-enabled, electric vibrations. The brain can be trained to translate these vibrations into words, just as a cochlear implant would work with the auditory nerve.

“We’re taking and substituting touch on the tongue with signals that the brain could use and substitute for hearing,” Professor Williams said.

The tongue is a fascinating organ, containing thousands of taste buds that connect to nerves running into the brain. This area of the brain is capable of decoding complex information, and this is what led him to his new research project.

So, how did Professor Williams come up with the idea for this brilliant device? After spending most of his career designing systems for space travel for NASA, he found a new concentration after his obstacles in space travel were overcome. Neuroscience and sensory substitution sparked his interest, especially after he himself developed tinnitus – a constant ringing in the ear.

After a year of designing and testing this device, Professor Williams and CSU graduate student, JJ Moritz, realized its promising potential and filed for a provisional patent and also launched Sapien LLC, to bring the technology to new heights.

They have partnered with Assistant Professor Leslie Stone-Roy of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, to dive deeper into how an adult brain would adapt to this unique type of technology.

“We have a remarkable amount of plasticity in our brain, even as adults,” Professor Stony-Roy said. “We now know that it is able to make changes and adapt to changes in incoming information, especially stimuli that are of importance to the individual.”

Together, they have launched a study to determine where the device would need to be placed on the tongue to maximize its effectiveness. “Basically, we are mapping the nerves on the tongue,” Professor Stone-Roy said. “There isn’t a lot of information out there about the nerves on the tongue and their ability to sense electrical impulses.”

Understanding how the tongue receives these messages, will not only enhance the device but determine whether standardized or customized mouthpieces are needed, which will in turn help determine cost of the device.

Professor Williams notes that it could take up to two years before the device is available for public use.