V5 - BIO - Lead Story
Pictured: Dr. Jennifer Wayne, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Orthopaedic Research Facility Director

Practical Application

MTS helps a university biomedical engineering department provide a valuable hands-on learning environment for students.

Customer Challenge
Most educators want to give students every opportunity to apply what they learn in class, especially when it comes to applied sciences such as engineering. This desire led the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) to develop a dedicated laboratory for supplementing its coursework in biomechanics.

The year was 1998. Dr. Jennifer Wayne, now a Professor in Biomedical Engineering and Director of the Orthopaedic Research Laboratory at VCU, was in charge of developing curriculum and specifying the testing equipment required for her fledgling Academic Biomechanics Laboratory.

“When I designed this program, my goal was to help students better understand that the testing principles you apply to any engineering structure, such as a bridge or a truss, are similar to those applied when studying the human body,” Wayne said. “I also wanted students to understand how materials behave in addition to structures. This would have to include many hands-on opportunities for comparing the behaviors between biological materials such as bone and soft tissue and engineered materials like metals and polymers.”

In specifying which test software, load frames and accessories should be added to the new learning laboratory, Dr. Wayne used ease-of-use, reliability, compact size and minimal maintenance as her primary selection criteria.

“I wanted students to understand the testing technology but to focus on the tests, so intuitive operation was essential,” she said. “While I had worked primarily with servohydraulic frames, that technology seemed like too much power and too much maintenance for our purposes. So we narrowed our search down to electromechanical load frames, and MTS emerged as the best match for our needs.”

MTS Solution
The VCU Academic Biomechanics Laboratory now runs eight MTS electromechanical test systems, each with a 10kN force capacity. Students design and run their tests using MTS TestWorks® application software, renowned for its flexibility and intuitive user interface. Each test station also includes MTS wedge action grips, an MTS axial extensometer and several custom-designed clamps and stages.

“In the classroom, we study the theoretical principles behind how biological and engineered materials behave when under load,” Wayne said. “Once we learn the basics, we go into the laboratory and the students start running tests themselves, getting a chance to watch the theories we’ve discussed play out before them. This hands-on lab work has greatly enriched both the learning experience for my students, and the instructional experience for me.”

Lab exercises give students the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the functionality of the software, load frames and accessories, by designing and conducting tests on a wide range of tissues and engineered materials, in loading sequences such as tension/compression and bending, just to name a few. According to Wayne, the lab work also includes an introduction to more complex dynamic testing.

“Although these electromechanical systems aren’t specifically geared toward doing cyclic loading and fatigue, they do reinforce the concepts that are associated with how tissues behave under repeated cycles,” she said. “The coursework naturally gets students thinking about the more complex applications that they will encounter as they pursue their engineering careers.”

Customer Benefits
According to Dr. Wayne, the MTS test equipment has been instrumental in helping the Academic Biomechanics Laboratory achieve its original mission of providing valuable hands-on learning experiences for its students.

“The lab has made our undergraduate students more engaged with their coursework, and they are showing remarkable grasp of both material behavior and mechanical testing in general,” she said." It is clearly a highlight of the classes I teach. And such positive results would not have been possible if the test equipment was cumbersome or complicated to use.”

Wayne’s experiences with MTS in an academic setting also led her to reevaluate the testing capabilities she had in her VCU Orthopaedic Research Laboratory. At this facility, she had been using a biaxial servohydraulic load frame from another manufacturer since the 1980s, which was run through analog controls and had data recorded on strip charts, later to be replaced by custom-written data acquisition software.

“Shortly after we opened the Academic Biomechanics Lab and began using MTS electromechanical test systems, I wanted to adopt digital control and data acquisition for my servohydraulic biaxial system in the research facility,” Wayne said. “Naturally, my first approach was to consult with the manufacturer, but my positive experience with MTS led me to think about other options.”

Wayne ultimately decided to retrofit her legacy system with MTS digital controls and application software.  “The new MTS technology offers a straightforward means of handling both the torsional and axial actuators simultaneously,” she said. “I’ve been very pleased working with MTS over the years, and not just in terms of the equipment. All of my MTS service contacts have been equally dependable and responsive to our needs."


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