The patterns are similar to the branching patterns seen in a lightning strike. They also can be seen on the skin of lightning-strike victims or on the ground at the point where a lightning strike occurred. A more common example of this effect can be seen in crystal blocks that are often sold as decorative pieces.
Observing these patterns, Ugaz saw the similarities to the artificial network he envisioned creating and wondered if liquid could be transported through these branching pathways, similar to the way nutrients are transported through a tree's vasculature.
He went to work, teaming with Texas A&M's National Center for Electron Beam Research to implant a high level of electric charge inside an acrylic block using electron beam irradiation. When a point of release for the charge was created, Ugaz was left with the expected fractal patterns.
In his laboratory, he and his research group continue to account for such variables as size, range of size, angles, average area ratios and diameters, as well as how all of this relates to the intensity and frequency of charge. Together with Jayaraman, Ugaz is working to translate these microchannels into a biomedical application.
Their work appears promising. So far, the team has found that these fractal pathways can indeed serve as an elaborate vasculature that is capable of sustaining transport in manner suited for tissue engineering purposes. What's more, by adjusting certain variables, Ugaz can reliably reproduce these architectures not only in acrylic blocks but in biodegradable porous materials that allow for cell cultures to be embedded in the area surrounding the vasculature. He's even begun widening the vascular channels to facilitate flow through them and interconnecting separate networks to form larger vasculatures.
And unlike other m
|Contact: Victor Ugaz|
Texas A&M University