Penn Engineering’s Ottman Tertuliano receives a 2024 CAREER Award

Tertuliano’s research on bone fractures at the nanoscale allows for research on two separate time scales: the forming of cracks in a fracture at 1 micrometer/second, and the cellular response and repair time scale, a much lengthier process.

Scientists have been studying bones and how they break for over a century, but they’ve primarily been doing so on the large scale, examining entire femur fractures through X-rays. To accurately model the dynamic, living system of bone and cells, scientists must examine and understand these structures on the fundamental length scale of the tissue: the nanoscale.

Ottman Tertuliano.
AMA Family Assistant Professor in mechanical engineering and applied mechanics Ottman Tertuliano. (Image: Courtesy of Penn Engineering)

Ottman Tertuliano, the AMA Family Assistant Professor in mechanical engineering and applied mechanics, is the recipient of a 2024 National Science Foundation CAREER Award for his work studying the characteristics of bones and external forces that affect their likelihood of breaking by examining fractures on the nanoscale.

“We all have a bone story,” says Tertuliano. “Whether it be through fractures, osteoporosis, or repeated wear and tear, bones bear the brunt of our active lives. Models built from the bottom on nanoscale observations will give us insight into the fundamental mechanics involved in bone fracture and repairs, fueling innovations to improve health and quality of life for everyone.”

In order to initiate this work, Tertuliano and his lab had to first assemble a system that enables them to observe dynamic cracks at the nanoscale in 3D, then they got to work performing experiments with real human bone from organ donors and those received from collaborating biologists and surgeons working with patients undergoing total joint replacements.

“One of the major goals of this work is to define the fundamental differences between healthy and unhealthy tissue,” says Tertuliano. “By working with these two types of bone, we can examine how healthy tissue from donors with no history of bone diseases versus diseased tissue from surgery patients respond to exogenous stresses.”

This story is by Melissa Pappas. Read more at Penn Engineering Today.