Material design and advanced manufacturing expert Johnson Samuel, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has won a prestigious Faculty Early Career Development Award (CAREER) from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Johnson Samuel

Johnson Samuel

Samuel will use the five-year, $400,000 grant to advance his research into developing new surgical tools and techniques for cutting and drilling bone that take into account both the age of individual patients and the particular microstructure of their bone. This kind of patient-specific surgery approach holds the potential to benefit many different bone procedures by reducing patient recovery times and the need for follow-up surgeries.

The CAREER Award is given to faculty members at the beginning of their academic careers and is one of NSF’s most competitive awards, placing emphasis on high-quality research and novel education initiatives.

Cutting or drilling into bone is an important technique used around the world as part of surgeries performed every day—from using screws to fix a bone fracture, to knee and hip replacements, to various medical implants. In 2010, for example, 600,000 total knee replacement surgeries were performed in the United States. The tools and procedures used to machine bone, however, do not take into account the bone properties and bone health of the individual patient, Samuel said.

This work lies at the intersection of manufacturing research and biomedical research, and could help inform a new generation of bone machining tools and surgery planning techniques.”

“Bone properties and bone microstructure vary from patient to patient, based on an individual’s age and health history,” Samuel said. “Accounting for these variations will result in less damage to the bone during the procedure which, in turn, will lead to faster recovery times and fewer revision surgeries for patients.”

With his CAREER project, titled “Microstructure-Specific Machining Strategies for Bone,” Samuel seeks to characterize how bones with different properties and microstructures respond to being cut and drilled. Specifically, he will look into different types of cortical bones and their microstructural components, including osteon fibers, interstitial matrix, cement lines, and voids. This work lies at the intersection of manufacturing research and biomedical research, and could help inform a new generation of bone machining tools and surgery planning techniques.

Samuel said his vision is a system where patients undergoing bone surgical procedures could be routinely classified into different categories, depending on the microstructure of their bones. Based on this classification, the surgeon would then be able to choose specific tool geometries, tool paths, machining conditions, and surgery-aiding devices that are designed to reduce the extent of the surface damage inflicted on the bone.

Educational outreach is an important part of Samuel’s CAREER Award. As part of the project, he plans to develop Lego-based lesson plans for middle and high school students to learn about manufacturing. Additionally, he plans to partner with local high schools to help implement a new “Exploring Advanced Manufacturing” curriculum that highlights the educational and career opportunities provided by the manufacturing sector. For this outreach work, Samuel will collaborate with alumnus David DeWitt ’68, who heads Phase65 Inc., a social media company dedicated to promoting manufacturing in the United States.

Samuel joined the Rensselaer faculty in 2011, after serving as a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a postdoctoral fellow at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.

He received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Mumbai, and his master’s degree in industrial engineering and doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

More information on Samuel’s research at Rensselaer.