Sunday, July 14, 2013

Summer Draws Toward a Close

First and foremost I won't keep you in suspense - the beer I brewed is pretty darn good. It's no Killians, but it is an Irish Red, tastes like and Irish Red, and looks like an Irish Red. I know you were as concerned as I was about the outcome of this beer. Now that I have confirmation that I can produce something potable, it's time to start learning more about how to craft and design my own beer. I'm hoping to kick out another batch before classes start.

My typing speed drastically reduced pace at the end of the last sentence. I didn't realize that telling you that my classes start soon would actually make it come true but it has. Before I get into that whole bundle of joy, how about a real update. It's not that I don't trust you to be interested in my brewing, it's just that if I tried to introduce it later in this post after I throw down some actual life updates you might not care about the beer as much as I think you should.

So here we go - I absolutely loved my first rotation in Hershey. I got to learn so much about the shoulder joint, learn some new software for taking patient image data and converting it to shapes and materials that you can push and pull on in computer simulations, meet and impress my prospective PhD adviser, and establish connections with my colleagues in the MD/PhD program. The shoulder joint is extremely complex. In fact, it is comprised of 3 joints - not just one! That makes it especially challenging for biomechanics folks to characterize and ultimately simulate its function. (If you find that fact interesting, I recommend you check out the webpage on wikipedia - if you read that, you'll know more than I do about the shoulder joint ). So by the end of the rotation I had learned to take a patient's MRI scan, parse that data into 3D point clouds that define the outer bounds of the bones and implants, assign material properties to those materials based on the image intensity, construct 3D solid models out of the point cloud data, and apply loads to the materials in a computer (FEA) model to simulate the amount of load the fixation screws on the glenoid implant experience during daily activities like pushups. The outcome of the work could lead to more stable implant or screw designs that would reduce abnormal loading conditions and preserve the longevity of the implant.

In hopes that I still have your attention and your eyes haven't rolled up into the back of your head as you exclaim "I can't take another line of this boring science-y garbage" I'll shift gears to talk about normal things. At the end of my Hershey rotation I moved to State College, the place everybody  thinks of when I tell them I go to Penn State. State College is a pretty great place. It rains every day but don't that that discourage you - it only happens when you go outside. The dorm rooms are prime candidates for historic restoration groups making them very...... unique in their ability to deny graduate students of wireless internet. In all honesty, I do like State College - the campus is enormous which has made for some great exploring! There are restaurants and bars here that you can walk to which is a huge step away from the overripe bananas, browning lettuce, and daily sandwiches I left behind in Hershey. Also, the Penn State chapter of my undergraduate fraternity is THE building next to my lab building. Being in State College has reminded me a lot of my undergraduate days (complete with a game of Edward 40 Hands) and has also introduced me to the huge research resources that will be available to me during my tenure at Penn State. Gah - I started this paragraph wanting not to say anything about science but I couldn't resist that one.

My adviser here in State College, Dr. Stephen Piazza, has been truly fantastic to me. He ensured that there was a workstation with my name on it and 2 (that's right - 2) monitors. In fact yesterday was Saturday but I went into lab anyway because the monitors there (individually) are larger than my laptop screen, the chair is comfortable, and I had the whole place to myself to watch Netflix movies while the world of computers continued to laugh at my futile attempts to produce something useful for the knee-modeling community. Back to Steve though, he actually SENT me home to Buffalo for a long weekend. Literally he came in on Wednesday, had a meeting with me and before I left that meeting he told me that he didn't want to see me in lab again until Monday. I had not been home with my family since New Years and it was a much needed visit.

I must say that, so far, I have been nothing short of amazed and thankful for this MD/PhD program. There's a catch though..... There's always a catch.... Oh right, I remember now.


Yeah - those things. They're gonna start up way too soon and then they will consume way too much of my time. My mood about them changes from excited, to anxious, to terrified every 15 seconds. I bought a stethoscope, required for classes, which reminded me of my Dad telling me about the tools he had to pick up to start day 1 of his apprenticeship. His stories continue onto the next few years during which he was constantly hounded and bested by the skilled craftsmen who did all they could to prevent anyone they deemed 'unworthy' from entering the trade. I anticipate a similar experience and at least for now I am looking forward to it.