Materials science and biomedical engineers are working together to solve many serious health problems around the world.

Here are some examples of work in progress

  • Repelling germs with ‘sharkskin’ – Bacteria have a tough time sticking to surfaces with shark-like roughness. Surfaces with a microscopic pattern of bumps that resemble sharkskin can even ward off nasty “superbugs” that resist conventional germ-fighting chemicals.
  • ABCs: A Behaviour Changing Syringe – a syringe designed to deter non-sterile use. The clever technology irreversibly changes the color of the syringe to a bright red once used, in order to signal risk. The syringe is packaged in nitrogen-filled pack, which ensures that the syringe remains colourless. When exposed to air, the syringe’s barrel rapidly absorbs the CO2 and causes a permanent coloration of the barrel. The system allows a 60 second treatment window – when the injection should be administered – and then turns the syringe bright red to avoid unsafe reuse.
  • polymer scaffold to stimulate bone growth, by utilizing the same chemical processes that occur naturally in the human body following an injury such as a broken or fractured bone. The technique involves the insertion of a porous scaffold coated with growth factors that prompt the body’s own cells to naturally mend the damaged or deformed bone.

What’s the problem?
The story of developing the ‘sharkskin’ anti-microbial surface is a great example of innovation and engineering. Researchers were trying to solve one problem – keeping algae off ships, and created an important new anti-microbial material for biomedical applications.

  • Ask – The original question was how to keep algae off ships. Another question – how to prevent the spread of disease-causing germs without chemicals. These don’t seem to be related, but they came together with impressive results.
  • Imagine – What surfaces naturally resist the build up of algae? Shark skin does this. What is special about sharkskin?
  • Design, Build – The researchers built a mathematical model of the texture that would resist algae based on prior research with other materials. They discovered that sharkskin had similar properties. They created material with the same structure of microscopic bumps. Then they tested the material to determine how effective this material was in resisting disease causing bacteria.
  • Improve – More testing with other bacteria and viruses is ongoing.

That’s engineering

  • mathematical model