For Haim, understanding how things work has always been a priority. “I’m fascinated by how structure meets functionality,” says the Penn Dental Medicine junior. As an undergraduate, he considered medicine, then took an engineering class taught by a materials scientist who discussed the elements of tooth structure, and realized the two fields—dentistry and engineering— could be merged. He was intrigued, and decided to apply to dental school, selecting Penn Dental Medicine for the quality of its academics and its strong clinical and research programs.
As a freshman here, he learned about, and applied for, a new dual-degree program in Bioengineering (one of six inter-professional programs available to dental students) offered in conjunction with Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. Once accepted, Haim found he loved the learning experience of combining classes in both areas: “Engineering is all about problem solving,” he says. “It’s a great way to balance the clinical aspect of dentistry.”
Haim had a chance to put some of his newfound multidisciplinary learning to the test after his first year, when he was chosen by Dr. Francis Mante, Associate Professor, Division of Restorative Dentistry and Director of Biomaterials, to pursue an independent research project over the summer. He collaborated with Dr. Mante in a study on surface changes in titanium implants, titled “Use of Electrochemical Spark Anodization on Titanium Surfaces to Increase Chondrocyte Adhesion and Proliferation.” Haim believes his research could have critical implications for many joint replacement surgeries, including the temporomandibular joint. Currently, titanium is used for medical implantation throughout the body. Although it has long been used for bony implants, it has not been successful in implants involving cartilage cells, such as joint replacements. Discovering a surface modification technique for titanium that would allow a single titanium implant to be compatible with both bone and cartilage cells would greatly improve the structural performance of any rehabilitated joint, says Haim.
Haim’s experience in the laboratory ultimately shaped the curriculum of his dual-degree program: when the project was complete, he found that he wanted to explore related topics further, and ended up selecting engineering classes in biomaterials and environmental corrosion. While his research project was an illuminating experience for Haim, research is only one aspect of the career he envisions for himself after finishing dental school. He plans to do it all—work as a dentist, collaborate with a dental supply or other dental-related industry, and maybe even teach a biomaterials course or two in a program similar to the one he is enrolled in now. By pursuing multiple roles within dentistry and engineering, he will continue his exploration of structure, functionality, and balance.
“Haim found he loved the learning experience of combining classes in a dual-degree program: ‘Engineering is all about problem solving,” he says. ‘It’s a great way to balance the clinical aspect of dentistry.”Haim Tawil