Daniel tugs on our heart strings with the latest computer technology.Daniel Espino

SubjectSubject: Biomedical Engineering, Physiology
JobJob: Maurice Paykel Research Fellow
Works forWorks for: Dept. of Chemical and Materials Engineering, University of Auckland
InterestsInterests: Music, Events, Sports

BiographyDaniel’s biography

Age: 29

A-Levels: Maths, Physics, Chemistry.

Degrees:

BSc (Hons) Physiology, University of Aberdeen

PhD in Biomedical Physics and Bio- Engineering, University of Aberdeen.

Daniel is trying to understand why you go weak at the knees… or at least the mechanical differences between healthy and degenerate joints (e.g. during arthritis). Grunge and punk, rock Dans world.

My job is

To relate how the structure of certain soft tissues (such as articular cartilage, found between contacting bone at joints) in the body relates to their mechanical function and material response.

Home is

The set for Lord of the Rings! Well not quite, but I recently moved to the City of Sails, which is Auckland (New Zealand). The house Ive moved into has a view over Mount Eden (the highest volcano in Auckland) and the Skye Tower in the city centre. At night I can see over all the city lights! At University, in the coffee lounge, we have a view over Rangitoto Island, which is a Volcano on an Island not quite Spaghetti-junction, but not bad!

The story so far

I studied maths, physics and chemistry for my A-Levels because I was interested in science and had always liked maths. I chose not to do biology because (to my detriment) I have never wanted to learn about plants. I found Physics very interesting, as it is fundamental to how everything in the world works. After my A-Levels, I studied Physiology at University because I was keen to understand how my body worked, but kept on taking optional physics courses, including biomedical physics. This combined the two things that I was interested in, the human body and physics. This led to a summer project, final year (undergraduate) project and PhD in Bio-Engineering. Following this I was awarded a British Heart Foundation Junior Fellowship to continue my heart valve research at the Department of Mechanical Engineering (University of Birmingham). Now, Im based at Chemical & Materials Engineering (University of Auckland).

Day in the life

In Auckland, people are arriving at work from 8 to 9am. I usually, do the email run straight away, to see if there has been a flood of emails from the other side of the world. As I am new to this project, I often need to engage in a bit of reading, but other times I can head over directly to the lab. Lab work may involve a range of things cutting up whole knee sections, sawing away at bits of bone, such as a patella or tibial plateau, or setting up mechanical experiments to test properties of these tissues. Alternatively, it might involve playing with chemicals, such as formic acid, formalin, or liquid nitrogen (to name but a few) luckily this biomaterials lab has a great record for safety. On the structural side, this currently involves looking at the tissue structure using a Differential interference contrast (DIC) microscope, essentially this microscope has polarizers in it, so that fibrils that form the structure but are at different angles refract light differently essentially this gives you pretty colours. Structures of different density (i.e. made from different materials) also do this, so bone is easily distinguished from cartilage. We can also get finer detail of the actual fibers of the structure by using the electron-microscope (like a light microscope, but uses electrons to image the structure, finer detail can be obtained because electrons have a shorter wavelength than light). Trips to the coffee lounge are a must, for the views and some free tea.

Pet project

My interests are in understanding soft tissues (such as cartilage or heart valves). But it all started for me with a project that looked at a new way of modelling biological systems. We investigated the intervertebral disc (the discs in your spine; they allow you to bend in many directions) by finite element analysis using modelling software. This method and software is usually used to design or study cars, bridges, engines, and so on. Natural variability means that discs have a wider range of properties than materials engineers are used to work with (such as metals). In models for biological systems, single values for properties (such as how stiff the material is) were used. We wanted to see if we could use certain methods to take into account natural variability, and get more realistic results. What we did was to test several discs to see how stiff they were and take measurements of them. We did this using the same methods that engineers use to find the stiffness of other materials (such as metals). The measurements were used so that we could make the computer model and compare the traditional way of modelling the discs with the new way that would include variability. Then, we could compare the results, and see if this was a better way to study discs, as an example of a biological system. A simple disc model was used to start with. The method was very good for intervertebral discs and has since been used in a larger study of articular cartilage in joints. I presented the work on intervertebral discs to a room full of mechanical, and civil engineers. People seemed quite interested and one or two thought they might try this for their studies on non-biological materials. The project was important in itself because it showed that we can include natural variability in computer models. This provides further understanding on how intervertebral discs or other tissues behave, which is in itself interesting. However, it can also help us understand more about diseases and how they affect the normal function of such parts of our body (e.g. arthritis). The ultimate goal is to design repair techniques or implants (to repair the injured body part or replace it if beyond repair) that take natural variability into account after all we are all different.

Freetime

There is so much to do out doors here in New Zealand, I should probably say something about beaches, or climbing volcanos to see wonderful sights. But, having recently got a new guitar I can only say that Fender Stratocasters are the best! My biggest past-time at the moment seems to be trying to play damped harmonics into riffs. The humbucker (pick-up) also gives it an extra bit of kick! Otherwise, just enjoying the sunshine during all activities! More generally, I love guitar based music with a bit of passion & energy, films (specially indie-films) and am currently having very bad footy withdrawal syndrome! Currently, I recommend listening to: Biffy Clyro & Blue October although, Ive been listening to Pink Floyds first album The piper at the gates of dawn lately too.

Burning ambitions

To record my own album ( la Dave Grohl/Foo-Fighters or Trent Reznor/NIN). I recorded a 6-track CD a few years ago (with others), mostly covers and very amateur original tracks. Biggest obstacle: not knowing how to play drums.

The best thing is

I find what I do interesting & have more flexibility (time-wise) than most people I know.

Regrets?

My biggest current regret is that Kiwis developed a love for Cricket and Rugby but not the life-essential Football!

What do you love most about science and engineering?

Getting to go to places like Vancouver (Canada) & Auckland (New Zealand) to do some of this interesting stuff.

Name one quirky/crazy fact about you or your job…

Working in a lab with several chemicals, you make sure you wash your hand before you go to the toilet!