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Weekly Round Up
24 January 2022
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Helping push the limits of what’s possible

Breaking glass

A new bio-circular polymer for metal replacement

Features

At a stretch
It’s not hard to see why a respiratory pandemic might put stress on the world’s supply of vaccines, PPE and ventilators – but why are toys getting more expensive, and why can’t anyone buy computer chips? It’s almost two years since the spread of Covid-19 began and the world’s supply chains are still stretched. Isabel Ellis asks Rob Handfield, the executive director of the Supply Chain Resource Cooperative at North Carolina State University, Mark Treshock, IBM’s global solution leader for blockchain in healthcare and life sciences, and Shawn Muma, technology research leader for the Digital Supply Chain Institute, how the medical sector and the societies that depend on it can build resilience into the supply chain.

New standards
Standard 3D printers can’t extrude the tissue-mimicking materials needed to make lifelike models of human organs. But who said 3D printing had to be standard? Tim Gunn speaks to Richard Arm, flexural composites research fellow at Nottingham Trent University, and Mike McAlpine, associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota, about their novel approaches to combining 3D printing with advanced materials, and what they might mean for surgical practice and medical device design.

Out of joint
Hip and knee replacements are two of the most common operations carried out in orthopaedic departments, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been perfected. There’s constant development into new technologies in the field that can improve, among other things, the longevity, biocompatibility and strength of artificial joints. Lynette Eyb looks at one EU-funded project called BioTrib and asks project coordinators Professor Richard Hall and Dr Michael Bryant about their vision for the next generation of artificial joints.

Sustainable spinning
As well as they work in the body, advanced biomaterials aren’t necessarily good for the planet. Despite the name, many are synthetic and require huge amounts of energy, or even environmentally hazardous processes, to manufacture. Others are extremely difficult to scale up to industrial levels. But, with the right tweaks, is it possible to go green and grow? Monica Karpinski investigates ‘green’ electrospinning with Chris Mosher of Columbia University, Tamer Uyar, associate professor of fibre science at Cornell, and Paul Dalton, head of the Dalton manufacturing and tissue engineering research lab at the University of Oregon.

Making the perfect mask
In 2020, when SARS-CoV-2 was spreading like wildfire across the globe, an immediate problem for front-line healthcare workers was that the supply of PPE couldn’t meet the sudden surge in demand. As scientists learned more about shielding themselves from it, debate ensued about face coverings and which materials best safeguard the wearer and those in close proximity. Allie Anderson speaks to Dr Frank Gunther, from the Division of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology at Philipps University Marburg, associate professor Ryan Lively and aerosol scientist associate professor Nga Lee Ng at the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and associate professor Liu Zheng from Nanyang Technological University about how the science of mask wearing evolved during the pandemic, and which materials are known now to be the most protective.


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