Also In This Issue

Lab Work: Research at Texas A&M

Coast-Protecting Computer Models

Texas A&M University researchers from the colleges of geosciences and engineering created a set of computerized models to help explain ocean dynamics and assist in predicting future oil spills.

A clear need for such technology arose following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill that devastated the Gulf of Mexico, after researchers found that computer models designed to mitigate the resulting disaster failed in numerous ways.

The new, comprehensive computer model suite created by scientists is more integrated and provides a three-dimensional view of petroleum fluid behavior. While developing the model, researchers observed changes in coastal currents and conducted field experiments to study how oil would spread from the source of a spill. These included direct observations of natural underwater oil seeps using an autonomous underwater vehicle, as well as mimicking a spill at depth to see how a real subsurface spill might behave.

“If we can forecast where the oil is going to go, it means we can alert citizens as soon as possible and determine where to apply cleanup efforts,” said Dr. Piers Chapman, a research professor in the Department of Oceanography.

Saving Lives with Shellfish

Scientists at Texas A&M University developed a bioabsorbable wound dressing to combat hemorrhaging, the leading cause of death in traumatic injuries. The innovative dressing utilizes the blood-mitigating properties of chitosan, a polysaccharide found in the exoskeleton of crustaceans, to aid emergency medical teams in stopping blood loss and preventing casualties. 

Texas A&M chemist Dr. Karen Wooley and a research team successfully encapsulated entangled nanofibers of chitosan within a sugar-based hydrogel to create a highly-malleable wound dressing that dissolves in the injury site in as little as seven days. The team has applied the dressing to liver injuries in rats, rabbits and pigs, measuring the amount of blood loss and time to hemostasis in each case to gauge effectiveness. The dressings were also imaged after seven days to evaluate their biodegradation. No residues were observed in any of the settings.

This breakthrough research has the potential to reduce mortality through early control of hemorrhaging in traumatic injuries. “These bioabsorbable wound dressings can be included in first-aid kits, carried by soldiers and used in hospital surgical procedures to save lives on the civilian and military fronts,” said Eric Leonhardt ’19, a Ph.D. student who studied under Wooley.

Out-of-this-World Spacesuits

An aerospace engineer at Texas A&M University is partnering with colleagues at Cornell University to transform the future of astronauts’ spacesuits. Dr. Ana Diaz Artiles is investigating a new intelligent, hybrid SmartSuit to help resolve design and health risks associated with the current spacesuit, known as the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU). The project is funded by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Program.

The SmartSuit, designed for exploration of the moon and Mars, incorporates soft robotics technology and gives astronauts better mobility and dexterity during extravehicular activities. The suit includes a stretchable self-healing skin that not only protects the wearer in the event of puncture, but also collects data through integrated sensors in its membrane, providing visual feedback to astronauts about their surroundings. These sensors also allow for enhanced interaction with the environment, permitting astronauts to actually “feel” rocks and terrain.

The current EMU is highly-pressurized with no robotic assistance, causing astronauts to expend extra energy. “Today’s spacesuit is like a big balloon,” said Diaz Artiles. “Astronauts fight against the suit when they move, which can lead to fatigue, musculoskeletal injuries and discomfort.” Before donning the EMU, astronauts must pre-breathe pure oxygen for up to four hours to avoid risking decompression sickness. The soft robotic technology of the SmartSuit is envisioned to provide a level of mechanical counterpressure so that astronauts would need to pre-breathe oxygen for as little as 90 minutes.

WhaT Causes Déjà Vu?

You’re having dinner with a friend somewhere you’ve never been when it happens again: déjà vu. Everything seems like something you’ve experienced before. What’s going on?

"Hold off on claiming any psychic powers," said Michelle Hook, an assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics in the College of Medicine. Hook explains that déjà vu is better understood as a sort of glitch, or electrical malfunction, in the brain’s temporal lobe. Since memories are made and stored in that area, when certain neurons for recognition and familiarity fire there, they can trick the brain into mistaking the present for the past.

Instances of déjà vu may also be attributed to a mismatch in the brain’s neural pathways. “It only takes a small amount of sensory information, like a familiar smell, for the brain to create a detailed recollection,” said Hook. “Déjà vu could be linked to discrepancies in the memory systems of the brain, leading the sensory information to bypass short-term memory and reach long-term memory instead. This may produce the unsettling feeling that we’ve experienced a new moment previously.”

  • A New Rhino Species

    Doctoral candidate Rachel Short ’20 led a team that identified a new species of ancient rhinoceros, Teleoceras aepysoma, from fossilized remains found in the mountains of Tennessee dating back almost 5 million years. Longer front legs helped these rhinos graze on taller shrubs and trees, while the lack of a nasal horn also distinguished them from other species.
  • Revolutionizing Prosthetics

    A Texas A&M researcher is revolutionizing prosthetics for amputee patients.
    Dr. Pilwon Hur, assistant professor in the J. Mike Walker ’66 Department of Mechanical Engineering, created a robotic transfemoral prosthesis. Typical above-the-knee prosthetics have a limited range of motion, but Hur’s device uses a rotary spring to reduce the weight and control the system more effectively, making it easier for the wearer to walk.
  • First of its Kind

    From the smallest of birds to the largest of mammals, it seems there’s no animal Texas A&M veterinarians can’t treat! Drs. Jeffrey Watkins and Kati Glass of the university’s Large Animal Hospital successfully performed the first humerus fracture repair on a 3-year-old polar bear named Nora, who lives in Utah’s Hogle Zoo. They faced many challenges, but thanks to a specialized implant that Watkins had developed for other large animals, Nora is recovering well.

Dunae Reader '15

Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications/Spirit Editor/Maroon Co-Editor