On Saturday, March 22rd, 2014 Eun Ji Chung, Kevin Hunt, Lorraine Leon, Laurie Mlinar, and Katie Nord conducted a workshop for 35 Chicago-area middle school girls as part of the Expanding Your Horizons outreach program, hosted at the University of Chicago in the Biological Sciences Learning Center. There were three sessions total, with about 10 girls per session.
The workshop focused on biologically inspired, biocompatible materials (biomaterials) for biomedical applications. They designed two sets of activities to bring the idea home: (1) soy and (2) alginate (seaweed).
For the soy-based materials, the researchers brought soft, hard, and lyophilized tofu to allow the students to investigate the effect of water content on material properties. Students were then able to prepare their own biomedical implants using bone-shaped cookie cutters with both tofu and soy-hydrogels prepared from soy powder. This allowed the girls to connect the idea of mechanical properties with the design requirements for implants of various tissues.
For alginate, IME researchers introduced the idea of cross-linking, which occurs in alginate upon the addition of the divalent cation calcium. Students prepared hydrogel spheres by adding alginate dropwise to a solution of calcium chloride. The students were able to investigate the stiffness of the hydrogels based on how long the spheres were allowed to sit in the cross-linking solution. We then introduced the ideas of encapsulation and composite materials by investigating the effect of incorporating varying sizes, shapes, and amounts of glitter. These ideas of encapsulation and composite materials are important with respect to the design and processing requirements of more complex implants, and for drug delivery or cell encapsulation for biomedical and tissue engineering applications.