Alumnus Scott Small Helps Students Discover Breakthroughs in Hip, Knee Replacements

Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Scott Small and students in a lab.

Making Discoveries: Scott Small (left), engineering director for Rose-Hulman's Orthopaedic Biomedical Engineering Laboratory, helps students set up a test for a project being conducted on campus for the Joint Replacement Surgeons of Indiana. (Photo by Shawn Spence)

Scott Small handles the metallic tamale pepper-shaped hip implants spread across a table in his office with considerable care while explaining, in great detail, about how they're helping Rose-Hulman students learn about orthopedic biomechanics. Specifically, students are discovering whether shorter-stem hip replacements will work as well, or better, than longer ones.

"We answer questions like that in laboratory research," Small says. "The industry is always working to solve little problems."

Small clearly enjoys tackling problems- no matter their size. He was attracted to the field of biomechanics after attending a class taught by Emeriti President Samuel F. Hulbert, a renowned prosthetics scientist.

"It was just an interesting application of engineering," Small remarks. "I enjoy seeing mechanical engineering applied to the human body."

Small received his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 2005 and a master's degree in biomedical engineering in 2007. He was one of the first Rose-Hulman graduate students to study biomechanics alongside a surgeon.

Relationships with the Joint Replacement Surgeons of Indiana (JRSI) helped Small create Rose-Hulman's Orthopaedic Biomedical Engineering Laboratory, a state-of-the-art facility located in the institute's John T. Myers Hall. As the laboratory's engineering director, he oversees research projects being conducted by more than a dozen biomedical engineering students.

"I get to work with college students and cool toys," Small says, chuckling about his good fortune.

While Small's office is in Myers Hall, he is employed by the JRSI Research Foundation, a Mooresville, Indiana-based not-for-profit organization that's dedicated to clinical and engineering research, and education to advance orthopedic patient care. In partnership with JRSI, Rose-Hulman students work alongside leading orthopedic surgeons, write peer-reviewed research articles, and present their findings at professional conferences.

Eight recent laboratory alumni (2012-2014) are now in master's or doctorate programs, three recent alumni are attending medical school, and four 2015 seniors plan to attend graduate school.

"The best part of my job is seeing the students develop over the years," says Small, who received the Rose-Hulman Alumni Association's Distinguished Young Alumni Award in 2014.

Another point of pride for Small is the more than $400,000 in new research equipment and facilities he has brought to Rose-Hulman and the biomechanics laboratory. The facility has grown in prestige, providing students the opportunity to work with 3D medical imaging and finite element analysis machines.

"It's a small lab, but we're outfitted well for what we do," Small says.

Professionally, Small has presented research at several national and international medical conferences, including Oxford University in 2012.