Luke Riexinger '17, biomedical engineering    

This summer I worked with Professor Ebenstein to determine the degradation rate of absorbable sutures in saliva. Sutures are medical threads that are used to hold tissue together while the body heals. Sutures are regularly used inside the body, a saline environment, and thus the degradation rate is well studied in that environment. The same sutures are also used during oral surgery, but little is known of their degradation in saliva. Thus, Dr. Jenna Briddell, a resident in the Otolaryngology Department at Geisinger Medical Center, was interested in this information and worked closely with me and Professor Ebenstein to develop this project.

For the experiment, 288 sutures were tied into loops and then connected into sets of six. Each set was held in tension and soaked in either a saline or saliva solution. At designated time points, I removed a set and broke each suture on an Instron tensile testing machine. This procedure allowed us to gain a picture of how disintegration in saliva compared to saline. The data indicates that sutures decay more rapidly in saliva than they do in saline.

I was a part of this research project from near the beginning. This allowed me to understand what it would be like to work in the academic side of biomedical engineering. The most interesting part of research was the planning phase. At that point in the process, we had a vision of what we wanted, but how we were going to get there was a mystery. It took three weeks to work out the details, and the final product was not what we had initially imagined. The mesh between creativity and feasibility made this challenging, but that is what made it intriguing and in turn led me to find a better method. That is engineering, having an idea and working to make it a reality.

Being a part of a research project has been a privilege. I have worked with professional equipment such as the Instron machine and a scanning electron microscope. Having access to this kind of equipment is a unique opportunity. I have also been able to work alongside professionals in this field I otherwise would not have come in contact with. This was a beneficial experience that has made me more enthusiastic about the biomedical engineering field and will have bearing on my future. 

Advisor: Professor Donna Ebenstein