Susmita Bose, a Washington State University professor doing pioneering research in bone implant materials, was honored May 4 at the White House, where she was one of 20 National Science Foundation-sponsored researchers to receive the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).

With the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering since 1998, Bose has focused her research on the development of nanoscale ceramics which have great potential for improving bone implants.

News that Bose was selected to receive the reward was welcomed by Anjan Bose, dean of the WSU College of Engineering and Architecture (no relation to Susmita Bose).

“This prestigious award indicates the caliber of cutting-edge research that Susmita Bose is doing in nanoscale biomaterials,” he said. “We’re proud that she is part of our group and among the scientists and engineers doing world-class research within our college.”

Who is nominated

John H. Marburger III, science advisor to President George W. Bush and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, presented the awards at a White House ceremony in the Old Executive Office Building. Fifty-eight scientists received PECASE honors, including 20 National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported researchers and 38 other scientists and engineers representing programs sponsored by eight additional federal departments and agencies.

NSF supports about one-third of the PECASE recipients each year.

NSF’s nominees for the presidential awards are drawn from junior faculty members who have received grants from NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program. The program is intended to support new faculty members who show promise as leaders in science and engineering and have translated their work into significant education activities.

Since the program began in 1996, only 140 of the 2,900 CAREER grant recipients have received presidential recognition.

PECASE honorees receive no additional NSF funds beyond their initial CAREER grants. However, the presidential recognition carries significant prestige, as the recipients represent the best among young researchers and educators from the CAREER program. Bose has been the recipient of a five-year NSF CAREER grant totaling $400,000.

The PECASE citation commended Bose for her “innovative and multidisciplinary research on bioactive bone implants.” Additionally, it said her “extensive hands-on activities for high school students, involvement of undergraduates in the research effort,” and efforts to create “interaction among various industries, undergraduates, high school teachers and minority students” were factors in her selection for the award.

Ceramic bones

Bose is working to develop a nanoscale ceramic for use in coating metal implants. She hopes the nanoscale ceramic will be more familiar than metal to body tissue and will therefore bond better with surrounding tissue. Because of its better bonding capability at the nanoscale, the ultra-fine material also could be used to develop stronger imitation bone implants than are currently available.

The importance of Bose’s research is evidenced by statistics showing that more than 800,000 bone grafting or replacement procedures are done each year in the United States. With an aging population, that number is expected to rise. One of the determining factors in the success of bone implants is what happens at the interface between the tissue and the implant material.

An implant that isn’t bonded well to its surrounding tissue fails easily. But by constructing powder particles in nanometer size, the surface-to-volume ratio of the material is increased, creating a greater surface area to which particles or grains can bond with tissue efficiently.

The nanoscale material also has advantages over materials with larger particles because natural bone also is constructed of nanoscale constituents and body cells are accustomed to interacting with the nanostructured surfaces of natural bone.

Trending towards tiny

So far, Bose and her fellow researchers have brought their material’s particle size down to 50 nanometers, or 2,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. A novel surfactant assembly technique she is using involves trapping tiny particles within the core of a synthetic soap molecular assembly. The technique has great potential for creating new materials in fine scale to solve critical challenges in technology, the WSU professor said.

“By making materials from the atomic or molecular level, there’s so much flexibility to make them the way you want them with tailored properties,’’ Bose said. “The nanoscale technologies have a lot to offer for biomedical research, tissue engineering and bioengineering applications in the 21st century.’’

Bose received a doctoral degree from Rutgers University in physical organic chemistry. She has a master’s degree in organic chemistry from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, India, and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry (honors) from the University of Kalyani, West Bengal, India.

She was the only representative from a university in the Pacific Northwest to be recognized with a PECASE award this year. Brown University, the California Institute of Technology and the University of California-Berkeley each had two faculty members named as award winners.

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