New endowment fund buys bones

Mar 26, 2004

Bioengineering students will get a chance to "bone-up" on how their work fits into real world problems, with a little help from Susan K. Smith.

Local philanthropist Susan K. Smith became the newest benefactor of the Fracture Lab at Kettering recently, to help bioengineering students better understand how the mechanical devices they design integrate into the human body.

Smith's interest in bioengineering and engineering education translated into a $10,000 endowment fund, the Susan K. Smith Bioengineering Award, that will support the Fracture Lab. However, the endowment was not available for use this year. To bridge the time gap, Smith donated an additional $500 to purchase "saw bones" (bone models) for the "Introduction to Bioengineering Applications" class for the 2003-4 academic year. This enabled students to get hands-on experience simulating the repair of a fractured bone using stainless steel fracture repair plates.

The endowment is designed to underwrite the purchase of bone models for two sections of "Introduction to Bioengineering Applications" each year. Eight sets of bones are needed per class.

"The bone models are made of a dual durometer (hardness) foam material simulating the spongy inner bone and the harder denser bone on the outside," said Patrick Atkinson, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering. When simulating fractured bone repair, students affix the steel plates to the bone models using screws. Pilot holes must be drilled and the screws are self-tapping, meaning, the screws put threads into the interior of the hole automatically.

"The denser bone provides a lot more resistance; thus, it is important that bones provide the feel of the different bone types so students understand what an orthopaedic surgeon feels when they perform one of these surgeries," Atkinson said. "Why? Because Bioengineers design the plates and screws, but surgeons are the only ones who use them, and there needs to be that meeting on some middle ground where there can be an exchange between medicine and engineering."

After drilling the bones are not useful for anything, so "we let the students take them home to remember the class," said Atkinson.

"Susan's generosity and thoughtfulness as well as her obvious passion for learning has, and will continue, to make a difference for our students," Atkinson said. "It is wonderful to have a prominent member of the local community demonstrate her support for the Bioengineering curriculum at Kettering."

Written by Dawn Hibbard
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