Wired In: Iwona Jasiuk

Wired In: Iwona Jasiuk

Each week, staff writer Paul Wood chats with a high-tech entrepreneur. This week, meet IWONA JASIUK, a professor in the University of Illinois Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering and part-time faculty member at the Beckman Institute's 3D Micro and Nanosystems group. She might save your bones.

Your research runs the gamut of studying bone structure to creating materials that can be used in aerospace. What is your biggest interest at this moment?

I am now studying several new engineering materials which have properties superior to those of existing materials. They include alloys which are stronger and more conductive than base metals, high-temperature polymers and foams with novel architectures. One topic on bones involves a study of a new technique which has the potential to measure bone properties directly in a clinical setting. Current clinical methods are indirect imaging methods, which are not always accurate. The novelty of our research is in simulations of that technique to understand its outputs.

Why are they important?

These materials are of interest to aerospace, automotive and power transmission industries. For example, foams are stiff, strong and impact-resistant, but yet very light. We are designing foam materials computationally, 3D printing them, and then testing them to validate predictions. We are exploring applications of these foams for high impact structures or scaffolds for bone regeneration. In parallel, I am studying bone and other biological materials.

One of your many projects of a medical nature included simulations of livers during surgical procedures. How did this become one of your interests?

I am an engineer with a strong interest in medicine. Engineers can contribute to medicine in many ways. The goal of this project is to model computationally tissue deformations to guide medical doctors in robotic surgery and train medical students. I am part of the newly formed Carle Illinois Medical School in which doctors, scientists and engineers work together to create novel 21st-century medical school curriculum and program. This project is an example of how engineers can contribute to medicine.

You've also worked with man-made materials on the properties of composites with tiny particles. What have you learned from this?

Composite materials involve two or more materials combined, to achieve better properties than those of individual phases. By inserting even a small amount of nanoscale particles (of dimensions in nanometers), one can achieve new, often highly improved properties. My interest in this area is to design and create electrically conductive polymer-based nanocomposites. The idea involves adding small amounts of nanoparticles that can form conductive paths making material conductive. Such polymer composites are of high interest to aerospace industry, for example. The body of a plane needs to be conductive to protect against lightning strikes. Such new polymer nanocomposites are lighter and less corrosive than metals.

By studying high-voltage and high-temperature materials, what advances could be made in aerospace?

High voltage and high temperature materials are of high interest in many areas. In aerospace, such materials can be used for electrical cables and engine parts. We are also exploring applications of these materials for power transmission (power line cables).

With Jo Ann Cameron of the Institute for Genomic Biology, you have used frogs as a model to study limb regeneration. Why frogs? What are the implications for humans?

This joint research project involved a study of regeneration of critical-sized defects in limbs. Bone can heal itself when fractured, but when a defect is large, the bone will not heal itself. We used a frog model for several reasons. We were interested in connections between limb regeneration and bone defect repairs. Frogs can regenerate limbs in a tadpole stage but lose this ability in the adult stage. Thus, we wanted to see a connection between regeneration of critical-sized long bone defects and regeneration of limbs in a single animal model. Also, since frogs are not directly loading their bones when swimming and they have a dual bone (tarsus), we could remove one bone piece and do not need to use stabilizers. Finally, frogs are inexpensive, and they do not require antibiotics after surgeries.

Another collaboration was with John Dantzig, currently an emeritus professor in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering, to study the effects of solid and fluid phases of bone on bone remodeling. Have you arrived at the point where there could be clinical studies?

In this study, we captured, computationally, bone remodeling due to exercise. We simulated experiments done on rats in another lab (at Indiana University). Same simulation approach can be used to predict bone remodeling in humans due to exercise or inactivity. Such problem is of high clinical interest. Bone is a living material which responds to mechanical and biological signals. When bone is subjected to loads as in exercise, a new bone is created to protect it from failure. This process also has a negative aspect. When bone is not used, it resorbs. Such bone loss may lead to osteoporosis, a disease characterized by bone fragility. Bone loss is of high interest to NASA for space exploration. Lack of gravity in space leads to bone loss.

Do you have any patents?

I do not have patents. My research employs theoretical and computational methods which are not patentable. In my research, I am studying new and existing materials: their processing and composition, and resulting structure and properties.

Of all the work you've done, what are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my studies on characterization and modeling of bone. By studying biological materials, one can contribute to medicine, and one can learn so much from nature to design new materials and make technological advancements.

TECH TIDBITS ... with IWONA JASIUK

Social media? LinkedIn is my main social media for work, but usually I don't have much time for Facebook.

Books or digital media? A book. I look at computers all day.

What are you reading? Mainly technical books.

Do you have a hero? Marie Curie Sklodowska. We're both Polish immigrants.

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