While Dr. Hamdy Ibrahim’s career is considered to be in its early stages today, the National Science Foundation has just cast a big vote of confidence in its future.
Each year since the program’s inception in 1994, the NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program has presented “CAREER” awards of substantial research funding to a select few early-career faculty considered to “have the potential to serve as academic role models” in their fields and to advance the missions of their institutions.
This year, Ibrahim, a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is among that group.
His CAREER award comes with $556,776—to be distributed over five years, starting in May—for research into “innovative hybrid coatings” for implanted devices in biomedical applications such as vascular stents and bone fracture repair, in which the implants are intended to remain and naturally degrade after serving their purpose. Focused on materials science, the project will investigate how bioactive agents interact with coated magnesium used in biomedical devices to better understand and manage the rates of magnesium degradation.
From about 2,500 research proposals submitted each year by early-career faculty, approximately 20% are selected for the honor Ibrahim has received, what NSF describes as its “most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty.”
“I was really ecstatic because this is one of the most competitive awards NSF offers,” Ibrahim said. “I got the email of the award confirmation and I looked at it closely to make sure it was real. Any funding is a great feeling, but this is such an honor because it really is prestigious.”
In his successful proposal, Ibrahim wrote that the aging U.S. population and its increased demand for health care services heighten the need to “enhance the clinical feasibility of biodegradable, magnesium-based metallic implants.”
McGraw Hill AccessScience notes that “the most promising candidates for use as orthopedic and cardiovascular implants are alloys of magnesium, which biodegrade in six–15 months.”
“Some of the biomedical applications that require temporary fixation are bone implants—bone fixation situations,” Ibrahim said, “such as in a fracture when the doctors need to implant screws and nails and plates. Those are left in the body and, if they have to be removed after healing has finished, that is done surgically. Many such cases involve teenagers and athletes.”
Ibrahim’s investigation is within “a big area of research on improving the efficacy of biomaterials” toward the possibility of more devices that can safely break down and be absorbed by the body, he said.
“In research, we can look at the best coatings to help degrade implants in a more controlled manner. Control of degradation will enable us to make implants more patient-specific by knowing whether it will last three months or two months or six months or a year.”
Ibrahim’s project will introduce “innovative hybrid coatings, combining different coating methods and materials, to mitigate degradation and allow the controlled release of bioactive agents,” and he will conduct the research in two ways. Laboratory experiments will assess how bioactive agents interact with coated magnesium, and computational simulations will develop “a more generalized model that can predict biomaterial performance.”
In addition to the research, the project has two other substantial educational components. One is outreach to underrepresented groups in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math), and the other is creating a graduate course on the manufacturing of biomaterials.
The outreach will involve schoolchildren from the local Hispanic community and high school girls.
“We will be providing an environment of exposure for young people in that group to STEM in the form of giving tours, bringing them to campus, going to them to make demonstrations and working with the families of these children and encouraging their involvement,” Ibrahim said. He will work with Dr. Stephanie Philipp, a STEM education faculty member and researcher at UTC, on evaluating these educational activities. He will join with Dr. Yunye Shi, faculty advisor to the UTC chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, in engaging with area high school girls.
Ibrahim came to the United States from Egypt to earn a doctorate in mechanical engineering at the University of Toledo after completing bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the same field at Cairo University. He said his path makes him “very personally motivated” to conduct the outreach.
“I’m an immigrant myself, and many are immigrant kids coming with immigrant families,” he said. “This is hopefully a way for them to feel part of the society and to see their involvement in STEM as a very real option for them.”
While acknowledging the project will mean a lot of work over the next five years, Ibrahim said he’s eager to take it on.
“The CAREER award is not only about research,” he said, “but about the package of you as a researcher. I’m very excited and grateful for this opportunity.”
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This is the second time in recent years that a UTC College of Engineering and Computer Science faculty member has received the NSF CAREER award.
UC Foundation Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Trevor Elliott was the recipient of a 2021 NSF CAREER Award, which came with $542,220 in research funding to be paid over five years.
Elliott is using it to research additive manufacturing—also known as 3D printing—through studies involving combustion, fluid dynamics, computational sciences, material science, controls and propulsion.
The research is expected to yield insights for the aerospace, aeronautic and defense industries, and benefit the development of materials and processes in the automotive, chemical, energy and health care fields. The project also incorporates an engineering education component for which Elliott conducts outreach to area middle school students.