"It is extremely exciting to see our students creating valuable, prototype medical devices using the knowledge and skills they have gained here in our program."
Associate professor of biomedical and chemical engineering
Director of the biomedical engineering program
On the wall in Dan Cavanagh's office is a photograph of his young son playing with bubbles in the bathtub. Cavanagh likes bubbles, too. But his bubble-play focuses on intravascular gas embolism - the presence of gas bubbles in the bloodstream, primarily resulting from surgical procedures.
Cavanagh starts from a basic science approach, trying to understand how bubbles behave flowing through glass tubes. When the bubbles hit a branching point, do they split up? Or go down one side or the other?
"From a purely engineering point of view," he says, "there is no reason why they should stop in the glass tubes."
In the complex human circulatory system, the situation is different, as medical complications can arise when bubbles stop in the vessels. Clinical research suggests that 30 to70 percent of post-surgical cognitive or physical conditions may be attributable to gas emboli.
The ultimate goal of Cavanagh's research is to find ways to break up the bubbles or allow the bubbles to move further downstream, where they're not likely to block off as much tissue. "It's like moving an accident to the exit ramp from the main part of the highway," he explains. "If you can get it to the exit ramp, you're in a much better position."
Establishing a new major
Cavanagh has devoted the last eight years to putting Bucknell’s engineering students in a better position. He established the University’s first biomedical engineering program, which graduated its first class in 2007.
Biomedical engineering integrates physiology and biology with the traditional engineering disciplines. Bucknell’s academic program focuses on biotransport, which includes drug delivery, blood flow, and medical devices. Interest in the major, which currently enrolls a total of 58 students, has increased by 20 to 30 percent annually since its inception in fall 2003, mostly through word of mouth.
“We’re developing new teaching methods that take advantage of our program’s purposely small size, as well as the unique instructional facilities in the Breakiron Engineering Building,” Cavanagh says. “We are able to concentrate on providing a strong fundamental biomedical engineering education that prepares students for a wide range of future opportunities.”
Cavanagh is the 2005-06 recipient of the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching.
- Fluid mechanics
- Medical device benchmarking
- Biomedical finite element modeling
- Biomedical mass transport
- Biomedical fluid dynamics
- Therapeutic uses of surfactants
- Intravascular gas embolism
- "A Four Year Progression of Open-Ended Projects in an Undergraduate Biomedical Engineering Curriculum," American Society of Engineering Education Annual Meeting, June 2007.
- "Microscale Analysis of Bubble Behavior in Bifurcating Tubes," Biomedical Engineering Society Annual Meeting, October 2006.
- "Particle Separation: Investigation of Microsphere Motion Around a Bend in a Microfluidic Chip," Biomedical Engineering Society Annual Meeting, October 2006.