Hi-GEAR is a summer camp for high-school students interested in engineering and computer science. Aimed at celebrating women engineers, this program exposes students to careers in the engineering and computer science with interactive learning, team projects, and lab tours. For the past few years, the Fracture and Fatigue of Skeletal Tissues lab has had the privilege of participating in the lab tours, introducing students to a new aspect of mechanical engineering in bone. At the junction of mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, and computer science, it was our pleasure to showcase our research to a new generation of prospective engineers.
Mechanical testing is at the core of the research performed in our lab. Students experience mechanical tests performed on bone samples that mimicking different diseases. They had the chance to use an Instron testing machine and perform a 3-point bending test to failure. Using their knowledge, students were asked to predict the shape of the force-displacement curve and were introduced to stress and strain. This station gave them an insight into the experimental side of research that can be performed in a mechanical engineering lab.
Because the mechanical properties of bone and bone biology are so intrinsically linked to one another, introducing students to the biological side of engineering is extremely important. Students in Hi-GEAR learned about the hierarchical structure of bone and how bone is able to adapt to changing forces. By answering questions about bone’s structure, learning about bone disease, and looking at bone tissue under a microscope to see bone cells and blood vessels, students understand bone as a living, dynamic organ in the body that is constantly remodeling to adapt to its needs.
Because the F ² lab studies bone microstructure and nanostructure through imaging, we use image processing and machine learning to understand more about bone. During the Hi-GEAR tour, we have students use a machine learning algorithm trained on portions of bone images they label themselves. Seeing machine learning label features of bones nanostructure shows a real application of machine learning we use every day. Another aspect of computer science we showcase is 3D bone images of bone micro- and nanostructure. We educate students on the role and length-scale of microstructural features, such as lacunae, canals, and canaliculi, in bone while they experience the data in virtual reality.