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NMSU mechanical engineer receives Fulbright Fellowship for biomechanics research

An acquaintance made more than a decade ago has led to Igor Sevostianov, New Mexico State University associate professor of mechanical engineering, to be named a Fulbright Fellow. Later this month, he will travel to Vienna, Austria to teach and conduct research on the structure of bone.


Man smiling with arms crossed
Igor Sevostianov, NMSU mechanical engineering professor, will teach and conduct research in Vienna, Austria as a Fulbright Fellow. His research has important implications for the development of improved materials for surgical bone implants, as well as new materials for the aerospace and automotive industries and other fields. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Sevostianov met Helmut Böhm, professor at the Vienna University of Technology Institute, at a conference more than 10 years ago. Both were pursuing similar research in biomechanics. The two met again in person in 2011 and decided to pursue a Fulbright Fellowship which was awarded this past spring.

Bone structure is complex?its elements vary in shape and density and behave differently depending upon orientation, much like wood which is easier to cut against with the grain rather than against the grain. The irregular nature of its structure impacts its mechanical behavior, such as strength and stiffness.

Sevostianov has been modeling the microstructure of bone?pores, cracks and cavities?as a means to predict its mechanical behavior. His research has focused on the two types of tissue that comprise bone: cortical bone, the hard outer layer of bones which is solid and dense, and cortical bone, which is spongy and porous.

Sevostianov and his colleagues in Vienna will examine the different properties of bone on scales ranging from several millimeters to centimeters, where the two types of bone can be distinguished, to several tens of nanometers, where the elementary components of bone can be distinguished.

They plan to develop new analytical models and a tool for predicting mechanical behavior of bone based on the micro-scale information.

"Before we can make improvements in predicting behavior, we have to understand the qualitative characteristics of bone from an engineering standpoint," said Sevostianov.

His research has implications for space. "Bone structure changes under the microgravity conditions experienced during long stays in space and this will likely become more of a concern as researchers and mission specialists spend extended time in the space station."

Some of Sevostianov's work has been funded by NASA through the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium.

It also has medical applications.

"Conditions like osteoporosis result in the loss of bone mineral. For example, a 10 percent bone loss will lead to a two-fold decrease in bone strength, which is quite a lot," says Sevostianov.

Current tests, such as bone density scans, are too general, said Sevostianov, which can detect mineral density in bone, but not changes in shapes of the bone material, such as microcracks, which will change its behavior.

The methods Sevostianov is developing for characterization and modeling are relevant to a wide class of materials having complex micro- and nanostructure. His research has important implications for the development of improved materials for surgical bone implants, as well as new materials for the aerospace and automotive industries and other fields.

Sevostianov is working on the development of materials that are chemically similar to bone for use in surgical implants. He is also working on developing composite materials with special properties - automotive materials that are lightweight but capable of absorbing impact energy in a collision, for instance, and materials that can provide a heat barrier for the blades in turbine engines. Sevostianov has been part of a research team working across disciplines and colleges at NMSU with other New Mexico universities for a statewide collaboration to study new pathways for energy generation.

Thus far, Sevostianov has been using cow bone samples, provided by the meat laboratory in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, for his observations. He acquired an Instron machine used to evaluate the mechanical properties of materials, through a National Science Foundation grant seven years ago.

"Eventually, it will be necessary to collaborate with a medical school," said Sevostianov. He has been seeking necessary funding and has initiated discussions with the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and Tufts Medical Center in Boston.

While in Vienna, Sevostianov will be a visiting professor and will teach a graduate course in micromechanics of materials?a class he's taught for three semesters at NMSU. Additionally, he will give lectures in undergraduate classes and participate in a lecture series at the university. He also has seven invitations to lecture at various universities throughout Europe during his four-and-a-half month visit.

"I'm looking forward to teaching there. The Vienna University of Technology is one of the top universities in Europe. I expect the students to be very high level," he said, adding that he plans to investigate the possibility of developing dual graduate programs between the school and NMSU.

The Fulbright Program operates in 155 countries worldwide and is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. It is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields.

Sevostianov received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in solid mechanics from St. Petersburg State University in Russia and joined the NMSU mechanical engineering faculty in 2001. In 2006, he received an NMSU University Research Council Award for Exceptional Achievement in Creative Scholarly Activity. Most recently, he was named first recipient of the NMSU Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Academy Professorship.