Monday, July 16, 2007

Sitting waiting blogging

Right now I'm in my lab at work, waiting for glue to dry.


As I've mentioned briefly before, this summer I'm doing orthopedics research at Notre Dame - an interesting intersection of mechanical, materials, and biological engineering. (Which are, incidentally, the three fields I am most interested in studying.) When people ask me what I do, my favorite response is, “Oh, I play with cow bones.”

That’s using the term “play” rather liberally, of course. So when I say “I play with cow bones,” what I really mean is that I cut bovine cortical shafts into little uniform pieces, glue them onto slides, drill precise 3-mm holes in them, polish them ‘til they shine, add fluorescent dye to them, bathe them with UV light, and take pictures of them via digital microscope. Eventually I’ll figure out the diffusion coefficient of the particular dye I’m using, but I don’t have enough samples yet to get a good result, and the anisotropic nature of bone mucks everything up anyway.

I’ve also learned that phosphoric acid, lactic acid, and calcium hydroxide can be combined to synthesize artificial hydroxyapatite whiskers, a close approximation of the carbonated apatite comprising the mineral phase of bone, but only when mixed together in the right stoichiometric quantities under sufficiently high temperature and pressure.

Who knew?

Certainly not me, or at least not until a few weeks ago, when for some reason one of the grad students here decided that I, despite being the youngest person in the lab by about three years, was capable enough to start the synthesis reaction myself. That was a risky idea, let me tell you. Fortunately no limbs, eyeballs, or beavers were harmed in the whisker-making process.

And yet, in spite of all the advanced bioengineering research going on here – research that I am actually a (relatively) useful part of! – right now I am still waiting for the glue on my new slides to dry.

So what are you all doing this summer?

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