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Building a better catheter

Caltech isn’t only space flight, particle physics, and all that. It has humanities professors, economists, and more. It’s also gone into innovative engineering for your health, or the health of someone you know.

A new application of the complicated field of fluid mechanics is the design of a catheter that impedes bacteria from going up the catheter to infect the bladder, a distressingly common experience for patients. Antibiotic treatments often fail to prevent or stop infection, taking the patient back to square one.

Four Caltech professors in mechanical engineering, biology, chemical engineering, and computing and mathematics collaborated to design a better catheter. It reduces the number of bacteria that can swim up by a factor of 100.

How so?

In a catheter, fluid such as urine movies in so-called laminar flow, in nice streamlines. Bacteria can swim upstream, two steps at a time along the wall where the flow rate is zero and one step in the mainstream. This pattern was seen and modeled mathematically by Chiara Daraio, the mechanical engineer. The team then used great math models, figuring out that studding the tube with triangular “fins” created consistent flows and also swirls or vortices that push the bacteria to the center of the flow, knocking them back. The exact form of the fins for best performance even used artificial intelligence. AI in a catheter? Yep!


This has been an outreach activity of the Las Cruces Academy, viewable at GreatSchools,org.


Ref.: Caltech news


Vince grew up in the Chicago suburb of Berwyn. He has enjoyed a long career in science, starting in chemistry and physics and moving through plant physiology, ecology, remote sensing, and agronomy.
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  • KRWG explores the world of science every week with Vince Gutschick, Chair of the Board, Las Cruces Academy lascrucesacademy.org and New Mexico State University Professor Emeritus, Biology.