College Students Hear from Medical Physics Researcher

April 14, 2014 at 4:15 PM

Year 13 Chemistry and Physics students and some enthusiastic Year 10 Science students had the opportunity to hear about Femtosecond Laser Orthopaedic Surgery, from Mr Simon Ashforth, a Medical Physics Masters student from Auckland University. Simon is the brother of Art teacher, Christopher Ashforth.

Simon is currently researching Femtosecond Laser Orthopaedic Surgery as part of an independent research project for part of his Masters. He has a Bachelor of Technology specialising in Medical Physics and is currently researching a variety of possible applications for lasers in medical procedures.

When orthopaedic surgeons use traditional equipment to cut bone, a large amount of heat can be generated which can cause damage to the surrounding, healthy tissue. Mr Ashforth is currently investigating the possibility of using lasers to cut the bone without producing heat. Firstly, by using ultra short (femtosecond) bursts of laser energy, the bone immediately vaporises into a plasma and, as a result, the surrounding tissue doesn’t have time to heat up.

The second application involves micro-machining the surface of paper so that a single drop of blood can be made to spread out along pre-defined channels towards spots of test chemicals that have been impregnated onto the surface of the paper. Once the blood reaches the test chemicals, simple colour changes will instantly show whether the blood has any number of medical conditions. The vision is that a sample of blood can be tested for a range of potential illnesses, without the need for expensive equipment, simply by putting a single drop of blood onto an ordinary looking piece of paper.

Simon demonstrated this process by getting students to add a drop of food colouring to a Saint Kentigern college emblem that had been micro-machined to watch the outcome.

As part of the laboratories education outreach program, Mr Ashforth has invited science students to come and have a tour of the facility at Auckland University. This is part of a collaboration between the gifted programme and the science department. The aim is for students to see real world applications of Science and the possible pathways for pursuing a career in Science.

We accord our thanks to Mr Ashforth for the time he gave so willingly to our students. His insight was fascinating.

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