Poster Students for Science

“I’m just trying to find my words,” said biology senior Eryn Zuiker.

She says this moments after using words such as sintering, hydroxyapatite, osteocalcin and osteopontin in explaining the research for which she and fellow student Lindzy Nelson were recognized nationally on April 21.

Zuiker and Nelson were selected to present their research in the Council for Undergraduate Research’s annual Posters on the Hill event April 21. The CUR is a worldwide organization of researchers and academics who promote and recognize institutions that have noteworthy undergraduate research programs.

Eryn Zuiker

In Posters on the Hill — usually exhibited on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. but this year forced to go online — a select few students from around the country have their research presented before members of Congress. This year, more than 400 applications came to the CUR, which selected only 60 from across the U.S. Zuiker and Nelson’s work was among those selected.

Lindzy Nelson

 “It’s incredible that our research is being noticed, and you feel like you’re making a difference,” Zuiker said. “Because going into the lab every so often when we would do our research it was like ‘OK, I know this is going to make a difference somehow but how are people actually going to see this project this small aspect of the field, and then actually getting it recognized?”

The research project has been going on at the University since 2014 under the mentorship of biology professor Michael Bentley and automotive technology professor Kuldeep Agarwal.

It has involved using a 3D printer to create metal implants from a near-microscopic metal powder and infusing into the process powdered hydroxyapatite, a mineral in bone and teeth.

What the two students have been doing is taking those hybrid metal implants and surgically attaching them to the skulls of lab rats to see if the hydroxyapatite — the “bone powder,” Bently said connected with the rat’s own bone tissue.

After 42 days, the implants are examined to see if connectivity with the rat’s bone tissue was taking place.

“We would look at it under a microscope and see how the implant had taken in tissue,” Nelson said. “If you get real close in the microscope you’d see almost beads of metal, and what we’re looking for is tissue to go in between those beads.”

They’re finding it. Special stains used in the extracted implant – the osteocalcin and osteopontin —  “indicate the presence of new bone formation in the implants,” the students wrote in their presentation.

“Right now we’re at a point where we know connective tissue is infiltrating into the … implant,” Bentley said. “Now what they’re doing is confirming that there’s bone formation going on in the implant. That was pretty much the basis of Eryn and Lindzy’s presentation at Posters On The Hill. They’ve used a variety of techniques to confirm that.”

Being selected was nothing short of incredible said Nelson, a junior who will likely continue on with the research in the year ahead.

“People are interested and invested in our research,” she said, “and you can see how it will start to make an impact on people who aren’t just working on the project.”

“Some parts of tissue engineering are more of a novel field. In that aspect, it’s newer,” said Zuiker said. “And then medical devices impact a lot people’s lives and I think that’s another thing that brings it up to the national stage where we were accepted.”