This Q&A is part of the Grad Student Visionaries series, a spin-off of our Student Researcher Spotlight that highlights the state-of-the-art equipment housed in Beckman's Microscopy Suite and Visualization Laboratory and the graduate students who use it.
The hip bone’s connected to the… backbone, but there’s much more complexity to bones than how they’re structured for Michael Rogalski, a graduate student in mechanical science and engineering who studies cortical bone mechanics. Michael is a researcher in the Tissue Biomechanics Lab and works alongside Mariana Kersh, an associate professor of mechanical science and engineering. His research explores the makeup of weak bones compared to healthy bones, which could one day help to prevent bone fractures in high-risk patients.
Can you explain your research?
As we age, our bones become more fragile and susceptible to life-threatening fractures. Specifically, the bone in the hip joint is extremely likely to break if an older patient or patient with osteoporosis falls. I study the structure and strength of bone in the high-risk hip joint and compare it to healthy bone in order to understand the predictors of fracture and how we can strengthen these regions to prevent hip fractures.
What Visualization Lab tool do you use the most, and why?
I use VIC-Volume in the Vis Lab most often because it is one of the only tools available that characterizes the strength of my bone samples across microscopic length scales. I am extremely grateful to have access to this type of computationally powerful software at Beckman.
Can you share a technique that’s helpful to you on VIC-Volume?
Once we acquire x-ray images of our bone samples at microscopic length scales (see Image 1), VIC-Volume calculates the local strain distribution throughout the bone samples (see Image 2) . By comparing the strain distribution between samples from strong and weak bone regions, we help answer the question: What are the indicators of fracture risk in bone? VIC-Volume also helps us correlate the strain distribution to the microstructure of bone. As a result, we can help build better models and prevent fractures for high-risk patients in the future.
Any words of wisdom for future visionaries?
To future Beckman visionaries, know that the path of research in STEM is rarely straightforward. You often have to forge your own path, and this does not come without setbacks, mistakes, or sudden U-turns. Although the end of the path is sometimes difficult to see, it's unlikely you will find a journey as fulfilling as that of a STEM researcher. Research will help you broaden your skills as a scientist or engineer, and you will contribute to solving some of the world’s most important and difficult problems.
For more information about Beckman Institute's Visualization Laboratory, please visit: https://itg.beckman.illinois.edu/visualization_laboratory/