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Mechanical engineering major Ryan Sakmar ’04 (Doylestown, Pa.) combined the engineering and medical fields this summer in an internship with Manohar Panjabi, head of orthopedics and biomechanics at Yale University.

Putting in a full work week for two months, Sakmar found that his Lafayette education helped me excel in the internship, which included conducting research and assisting five orthopedic residents.

”The unique one-on-one relationships I have developed with all of my professors — not just in engineering — enhanced my social and work relations inside the office and out,” he explains. ”The team of doctors and I mirrored the type of group and team effort I had felt with my engineering design group. A similar work and social atmosphere existed for both.”

The most interesting aspect of the internship for Sakmar was the strong correlation between anatomy and orthopedics that he found through the basic understanding of engineering systems and mechanics gained in his mechanical engineering courses, he says.

”Both the doctors and I were astounded at the contribution I was able to make despite having such little knowledge of medicine and anatomy,” he notes.

As he read and researched publications and documents of the biomechanics laboratory in his first week, Sakmar discovered similar conceptual connections between medicine and engineering mechanics.

”One of Dr. Panjabi’s ideas was a mechanical device that would assist in restoring mobility to spinal burstfractures, a type of spinal injury where the disk between two vertebrae ruptures,” he says. ”For the past 20 years, cementation or fixation of the injured area has been the only option for patients with this type of injury. Until recently, there has been no safe development of anything to replace a burst disc. Implementation of these artificial discs indicates that the ruptured disc may not be all that needs replacement. Damage to muscles along the spinal column may be a direct result of burstfractures.”

Sakmar’s main efforts went toward designing a device to mimic muscle operations in flexion, extension, torsion, and lateral bending. He worked with artificial spines, pig and dog spines, and eventually, human cadavers on a flexibility machine.

”I did a lot of machining of parts, soldering, welding, x-rays, and programming, especially with the cadaver testing machines. The highlight was testing the device I had put so much effort into on a cadaver. All in all, I’d say I got quite an amazing experience.”

Sakmar is considering biomedical engineering and orthopedics as career options. Whatever he decides, he is grateful to numerous Lafayette faculty and staff who have helped guide him.

”I owe many thanks to (Career Services assistant director) Alana Albus, (psychology professor and former health professions adviser) Dr. Alan Childs, (engineering director) Dr. James Schaffer, and my engineering advisers for all of their time and help with keeping an open mind and supporting my desire to blend the two fields.”

Sakmar studied in Brussels during the past spring semester, traveling throughout Europe during his time abroad. He participates in intramural sports and is a member of Newman Association and Kappa Delta Rho fraternity.

Categorized in: Academic News