Mike Harding

We are excited to feature Mike Harding, currently a graduate student at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, in this Meet Your Fellow Companions Interview Series. Harding came in first place in the engineering division at Sigma Xi's first annual virtual Student Research Showcase in the spring of 2013 for his project, A Novel Total Ankle Replacement Device for Reduction and Compensation of Limb Length Discrepancies. The Showcase, a first of its kind, was hosted almost exclusively on the blogging platform Tumblr, and allowed students from around the world to present their research to experts without the burden of travel expenses. A member of the reactivating chapter at Mercer University, Harding's research covers timely medical engineering topics and brings a unique student perspective on both the coming advancements in his field and the influence of his membership in Sigma Xi on his future career.

Tell us about your educational background including your doctoral research, if applicable.

My main educational backgroundMikeHarding1 and research interests are in the field of biomedical engineering, especially biomechanics, injury mechanics and prevention, implantable orthopedic devices, and biomaterials. During my undergraduate career, I had the opportunity to work side-by-side with professors specializing in bioinstrumentation, physiological mechanics, and bio-fluids. Some of the undergraduate extracurricular research opportunities that I was directly involved in include: The Effects of Hyperthermia for the Treatment of Sciatica in the Upper Quadriceps, Observations of Oblique Fracture Angle in Long Bone Using Static Loadings of Various Magnitudes, and Investigation of Computer-Simulated Cardiovascular Fluid Mechanics in Upper Carotid Arterial Vessels of a Rat. My graduate academic experience has been geared toward real-world applications of engineering, and was heavily research-based and hands-on.

During my educational career, I've been a true believer that lectures and textbooks are not enough to succeed in a particular profession. Tangible, hands-on experiences provide supplemental and necessary information to apply general knowledge to specific applications, thus improving the understanding of a discipline. My graduate research opportunities have encompassed biomechanics, bone fracture mechanics, computational fluid dynamics, and many others. My research of choice for my Master's Degree Thesis was entitled "A Novel Total Ankle Replacement for the Reduction and Compensation of Limb Length Discrepancies in Arthroplastic Applications." I chose this as a means of providing a solution to a real-world problem of treating limb length discrepancies and tibiotalar arthritis. Ultimately, my work provided a reliable design as a means of treating these two disorders with a minimally invasive procedure, a dependable device, and fast rate of recovery. I also submitted my research to the Sigma Xi Research Showcase and was one of the Graduate Division finalists. I look forward to continuing my research interests in orthopedic devices and biomechanics by seeking admission to post-secondary programs in medicine or engineering doctoral programs.

Do you have a particular teacher or professor who inspired your love of science? Why?

Dr. Sinjae Hyun, professor of Computational Fluid Dynamics in the Dept. of Biomedical Engineering at Mercer University has definitely inspired my research and love of science. Dr. Hyun served as my academic advisor during my first three years at Mercer University. Lectures on transport phenomena and rheological fluid mechanics in the human body are not typically satisfying to the standard student, but Dr. Hyun uses an interactive and fun teaching method that allows for students to get involved with discussion through a hands-on laboratory setting. His relationships with students develop quickly thanks to both his interactive teaching and his great ability to listen. Personally, I had struggles adapting to the college workload, not unlike any normal student. Dr. Hyun recognized the potential of my work and helped me attain that potential through constructive feedback. His charisma and motivational teaching styles provided a structure for my personal development into the professional and hardworking student that I am today.

What is the focus of your current research?

Here is an excerpt from my dissertation:

"A thesis dissertation dedicated to the design, testing, and manufacturing of a novel total ankle replacement device that features mechanisms for natural biomechanical movement and compensation techniques for patients with existing moderate and severe limb length discrepancies (patents-pending). Total ankle replacements have been prevalent in the medical industry since the 1970s. When tibiotalar arthritis and severe abnormalities are present, a joint replacement is viewed as a safe and effective way of managing and eliminating further injury. However, many of these commercially-available devices are consistently unreliable and are prone to dislocation, material failure, or do not provide correct biomechanical function to the talocrural joint. The proposed ankle replacement was designed, tested, and manufactured to provide a reliable and consistent option for joint replacement and customization of the device for the patient. Through simulations and testing, the device was found to withstand extraordinary loading and when implanted, was anatomically correct in movement and range of motion."

Tell us about something we might see in our daily lives that directly correlates to your work.

The majority of the population in the U.S. will require a type of medical device at some point within their lives. Many of these devices are electronic in nature, such as pacemakers, LVADs, muscle stimulators. Others may be mechanical devices such as a fracture fixation plate, crutches for rehabilitation, or even prosthetic limbs for amputees. Total joint replacements and prostheses are devices that are becoming more and more common in today's society as the reliability of the design and manufacturing of these devices improves. My research has the potential to provide a reliable solution to the existing problem of total ankle replacement devices and the treatments of limb length discrepancies. Not only does this potential exist with the specific problems listed, the study of the materials used in the device, the surgical and healing process, and other areas of the study may lead to results that can change how these types of procedures are viewed, and ultimately the medical approach of how these devices are used.

Give us an example of how multi-disciplinary research directly contributed to your work.

MikeHarding2In the design of medical devices, knowledge from many disciplines is required to develop and implement an effective solution to a problem. For example, when designing a joint replacement, anatomy and physiology are only a part of the subjective knowledge needed for design. Much of the design process must be focused on materials science (wear and life cycle), medicine (implantation), host-implant interfaces (healing), and actual manufacturing principles for distributing the product. It has proved very beneficial for me to have acquired a core engineering background, and then to build upon that foundation with the principles of medical applications.

What are your thoughts on the future of STEM education?

During my collegiate career, I've come to recognize the importance of science, math, engineering, and technology in the academic development of students throughout the nation. An important trend that I've come to find amongst students my age is the general lack of creativity. The study of the sciences, for those who find interest, will increase creativity by promoting critical thinking and developing problem solving skills. As a Class of 2013 graduate, however, I've also come to see the availability of jobs decrease over recent times. As more science majors are graduating with degrees, more qualified individuals are entering the workforce and increasing the overall demand for these types of careers. With the average retirement age also increasing, this creates a potential bottleneck for students in years to come for available employment opportunities.

Another interesting debate with STEM education involves the reduced costs of manufacturing in other countries versus domestic manufacturing. Although many countries use STEM-type education systems (Japan, China, Russia, United Kingdom), it must also be noted that there is also a substantial workforce that is not educated in advanced technology which allows for manufacturing-type jobs to be in greater supply and demand. In order for a balance of jobs to occur in the U.S., STEM education should be promoted, but not so much as to dilute the applicant pools so that demand overpowers job supply.

Describe the patent/publishing experience—were there any bumps along the way for you?

Intellectual property (IP) has been a tough road to travel for me. I currently have three patents pending for medical devices and each of these have had delays or been rejected for various reasons. First and foremost, the most time-consuming part of a patent application is the initial patent search. It is critical to determine if other similar ideas exist and to identify what each inventor claims in a patent. If something is general, an industry standard, or common sense, it can be disputed when you submit your patent. The second most critical step is defining what is special about your idea and how it is different from other ideas that are similar. As time progresses, the patent approval process is becoming much harder as more and more ideas are being patented and trademarked. For any inventor, whether part of a large corporation or a basement prototyper, patenting is a great way to share your ideas while simultaneously protecting them.

What has the honor of induction into Sigma Xi meant to you?

As part of the first class of inductees into Sigma Xi at Mercer University, I was able to work with our Chapter President to learn about Sigma Xi and the benefits and opportunities that it offers students. I was very impressed with the amount of research opportunities that are available to Sigma Xi members. The Grants-in-Aid of Research program is simply amazing in its work to provide students and faculty at small institutions with funding for research of technological breakthroughs. The Research Showcase, the first digital conference of its kind, provided a means of sharing research over digital media while conversing with viewers and judges through forums. It was refreshing to have direct feedback and questions from these viewers that are publicly available, where others can see the responses that are posted by each presenter.

Since you haven't started your career yet, how do you believe Sigma Xi will serve you in the future?

I think that my research work and my experience in the Sigma Xi Student Research Showcase will ultimately help benefit the rest of my academic career and future employment opportunities. Recognition in a nation-wide showcase serves to justify the importance of my individual research and also puts my research in front of experts in my field to view and provide critique of the studies.

What books are you currently reading for pleasure?

That's a tough one, but my all-time favorite books are The Great GatsbyTo Kill A Mockingbird, and The Anthem. I've currently been reading The Bionic Human and Skin, both of which are medically-themed and have been very interesting to read over the past couple of weeks.

When you're not working on your research, what do you do in your free time?

Free time comes in short supply, but when I do find some, I enjoy playing the guitar and recording music, going to the nearby lake and playing golf on the weekends.

What’s your favorite movie?

Spinal Tap. It's a British comedy about a rock band and their transition to America.

What is your favorite motto?

My favorite quote is from Steve Job's 2005 Stanford commencement speech: "No one wants to die. Everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die to get there. Don’t live your life in the dogma of someone else's ideas. If today was your last, would you want to do what you are about to do? Stay hungry, stay foolish."

What advice would you give a young researcher just starting out in your field?

Steve Jobs said it best, "Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish." It is exciting and you are going to hit mental blocks where you don't know what to do or where to move towards. Just remember that "crazy ideas" have made the world to what it is today.

Sigma Xi just celebrated its 125th year. What advances do you see in your field of research over the next 125 years?

The development of the bionic human a.k.a. the real-life Iron Man (kidding)! Actually, I see the development of self-sustaining orthopedic devices with minimally invasive procedures. As life expectancies increase with breakthroughs in medicine, the need for medical devices will increase to compensate for material wears in the human body. This research and development will skyrocket to produce some pretty amazing results that I believe will be even better than some of the recent breakthroughs in our society.