Interview with Science Fair Most Creative Award Winner, Thomas Chow, 15
Pictured: Melsha Winchester, Marketing Director, Talking to Students

We were so amazed by the quality of research projects, and the students who prepared them, we wanted to share their stories.

Our first interview is with Thomas Chow, 15, who was selected as the senior level Most Creative Award winner for his project on “Engineering the Surface Microstructure of Implants to Enhance Bone Production”.

Q: What was the main focus of your research?
TC: Orthopaedic and dental prosthesis are widely used to fix or replace fractured bone, injured joints and missing teeth. However, there are often problems of implant integration into host bone tissues, which can result in long-term failure of the implant. There have been studies to use irregular rough surfaces to facilitate the interlocking and integration of the implant with bone matrix. However, whether it is feasible to use well defined surface microstructure to promote bone production at the bone-implant interface has not been well addressed.

Q: What were your research results?
TC: We hypothesized that surface microstructure can regulate calcified matrix deposition by bone cells. Bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can differentiate into osteoblastic cells and play an important role in matrix remodeling upon prosthesis implantation.

In our experiment, we investigated whether well-defined arrays of microdents can regulate the functions of MSCs and calcified matrix deposition. We showed that cells tended to spread between microdents and their spreading area was significantly decreased on the surface with less spacing (<20 microns) between microdents; correspondingly, cell growth was also slower on these microdents. Furthermore, cells deposited more calcified matrix on microtopographic surfaces than smooth surfaces, with more calcified matrix on smaller microdents with higher density.

Q: So your research showed a successful result?
TC: Yes, these findings provide insight into how microtopography can regulate bone production and will enable the design of novel implant surfaces to improve the success of bone and dental prosthesis, thereby benefiting healthcare and society.

Q: How did you select this topic for your project?
TC: My project partner’s relative had a bone implant. It was a very painful situation for her and was not convenient at all since she could not get up or do anything by herself for weeks. Along with this, there is a common loosening of the implants and their detachment from the bone due to wear or a lack of bone integration. We were inspired to choose this topic during our internship at a lab at UC Berkeley where other students utilized microdents.

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced during this research?
TC: The most challenging aspect of the project was trying to do the experiments since they required very small, but important steps that could easily mess up a part of an experiment. Some errors we came across were things such as staining cells incorrectly or trying to maintain the cells so they wouldn’t dry up too fast.

Q: Have you entered other science fairs?
TC: No, this is the first time I’ve ever enter a science fair so it was definitely intriguing to see everyone having a passion for science. When entering this fair, I did not realize how many innovations there could be in the minds of the future generations. It surprised me just as much as the judges when each person explained their project.

Q: With your first science fair completed, would you consider doing another one?
TC: I would like to enter next year’s fair and continue this project since it would be interesting to see where my partner and I could bring it. However, if we don’t have access to a lab it still wouldn’t discourage me to come up with another experiment.

Q: What are your favorite classes in school?
TC: History and science.

Q: When you aren’t working on bone implant research, what do you like to do?
TC: I enjoy skiing, drawing and hanging out with friends.