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When Kaydence Cowley ’07 (Littleton, Colo.) came to Lafayette, she was a biology major interested in biomedical engineering. The more she learned about biological systems, however, the more she wanted to know about the specific physical engineering principles of the human body.

During her sophomore year, Cowley switched majors to mechanical engineering, and began looking for biomedical research opportunities. Cowley is now conducting honors thesis research on the mechanical properties of bovine aorta, both with and without induced flaws, to simulate the effect of an aneurism in human aortic tissue. She is working under the guidance of Jeffrey Helm, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

“The measurements are being made using digital image correlation, a non-contacting visual measurement method,” explains Cowley. “Using this technique, I am working to compare the stress-strain curves of aorta with and without an induced flaw. The testing is being done in a 2-D tensile load setting, and in the future will be modified to test the aorta as a 3-D pressure vessel.”

Cowley’s work has the potential to contribute to the understanding of the material properties of aorta. She has been working on this study for several years. Cowley’s inspiration comes from two family members who underwent biomedical surgery that made their conditions worse.

“This is a field which has great potential to help people, but also has so much more to learn and discover,” she says.

Cowley is intrigued by how human bodies are built in reaction to mechanical loads, and how natural evolution has designed these incredible machines to function so well.

“Yet even more amazing to me is that we are coming upon an age where we can use our understanding of these principles to make our bodies better and to repair them when they fail,” she says.

Working with Helm has helped Cowley grow into an able researcher prepared to take on difficult projects and challenges.

“When I first stated working with him, I was very unsure of my abilities in the field, but because he had the confidence in me to assign difficult tasks, and the audacity to chide me for ending all my sentences in questions, he has given me the confidence I need to do well in this field,” she says. “I owe him a great deal for taking a chance on a naïve biology major and helping me into the world of engineering. When I first approached him about applying his interests towards biomedical projects, he was very enthusiastic despite never having attempted anything like it. The development of this project owes a great deal to his enthusiasm to learn along with me, and teach me what I needed to know.”

After Cowley graduates from Lafayette, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering.

“Kaydence brings a combination of intellectual curiosity, natural ability, and unbounded enthusiasm to the project,” Helm says. “She has always shown an interest in bioengineering. She also has the drive and initiative to follow opportunities. This drive is evident in her pursuit of opportunities both within Lafayette and outside the College.”

Cowley has spent her summers working at the Colorado Health Sciences Center, where she teamed with an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in joint replacement. Together, they worked to improve the accuracy of total joint replacement by applying a better understanding of the kinematics of the joints and improved technology.

The experience she gained at the center has given Cowley a broader perspective on research and bioengineering. She presented her work at the 52nd Annual Meeting of the Orthopedic Research Society in Chicago last year.

“I was able to see all the current research in this field, as well as talk to their authors,” she says. “Joint mechanics and cardiac material properties are what I consider the two most interesting and important areas of biomedical engineering. I am excited to have had the opportunity to work on both.”

Cowley believes Lafayette offers a supportive environment for projects like her thesis because of what she calls “amazing professors, like my adviser.”

“Lafayette has great engineering program,” she says. “Despite the number of requirements for mechanical engineers and the short amount of time we have to complete them, we have professors who are invested in our education and know what we need to learn to do well in our different fields.”

A member of Lafayette’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders, Cowley traveled to Honduras to help implement a water system project in the remote village of Lagunitas. Cowley also is vice-president of Lafayette Environmental Awareness and Protection, and a member of the McKelvy Scholars program and Kayak Club.

Honors theses are among several major programs that have made Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. The College sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year; 21 students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

Categorized in: Academic News