Rice Biomaterials Lab hosts 3D printing internship for high school students

By Anthony Melchiorri
Special to Rice News

The Rice University Biomaterials Lab recently hosted six high school students during a weeklong internship in three-dimensional printing technologies held in conjunction with the Awty International School Houston.

The field of 3D printing in medical research continues to grow as more therapeutics, surgical procedures and medical devices use the technology, which enables researchers and clinicians to design custom implants and prosthetics as well as rapidly design and prototype tools that can be used during surgical procedures. The student interns explored these topics and more, culminating in the fabrication of functional, customizable prosthetic hands.

Rice’s lab, which specializes in 3D printing, is a member of the Center for Engineering Complex Tissues (CECT).

“We were delighted to have the students visit the lab for the week,” said lab director Antonios Mikos, the Louis Calder Professor of Bioengineering and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and director of the CECT program at Rice. “It is a valuable opportunity for them to participate in our research efforts and also a great opportunity for the members of our laboratory to utilize their teaching skills.”

Mikos and Tairong Zheng, a teacher and academic coordinator at Awty International’s Upper School, established the internship program, which is also part of the CECT’s educational mission. Anthony Melchiorri, associate director of the Rice Biomaterials Lab, organized the internship with help from bioengineering postdoctoral fellow Luis Diaz-Gomez and graduate students Sean Bittner and Marjan Majid.

“The students got to see how they can combine the topics they learn in school with these technologies,” Diaz-Gomez said. “For example, they could see how physics affects the medical imaging through X-rays, how we use mathematics to measure and design devices and how we use biology to take advantage of cells and tissues in our bone regeneration grafts.”

The student interns conducted experiments and exercises, such as applying medical imaging techniques to capture a 3D model of an object they could modify digitally and print it, creating scaffolds intended to foster cell and tissue growth out of naturally derived biomaterials gelatin and alginate and fabricating custom-designed artificial bone grafts.

Capping their experience, the student interns 3D-printed and assembled functional prosthetic hands based on designs provided by E-Nable, a global charity that coordinates with volunteers to print prosthetics for children all over the world. Mikos and Melchiorri said they hoped the students now have a taste for using 3D printing technology to address real-world problems.

–Anthony Melchiorri is associate director of the Biomaterials Lab in the BioScience Research Collaborative.

About Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is a senior editor in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.