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"Making a overseas study period opens the way for other students to exchange."

Maria Bikuña has been on an international stay at the University of Western Australia (in the city of Perth).

29 | 06 | 2023

Maria Bikuña Izagirre has been a doctoral student in the department Biomedical Engineering and Science at Tecnunspecifically in the Tissue Engineering groupand defended her thesis on June 22nd. He has recently been doing an international stay at the University of Western Australia (in the city of Perth).

How did the option to stay in Australia come up?

It was clear to me from the beginning of my PhD that I wanted to do an international stay. My thesis consists of creating biocompatible Structures that mimic ocular tissue. For this I use the "electrospinning" technique. However, I wanted to learn a new fabrication method called melt electrowriting (MEW), which is based on the same working principle, but allows you to make more customized Structures . My thesis director , Jacobo Paredes, told me that he knew of a group in Australia led by a former University professor, Elena de Juan Pardo. We got in touch with her at contact and once the objectives were established I went there.

What did you get out of your stay?

I have been to Perth, (Western Australia) the most isolated city in the world. The next most important city, Adelaide, is 2,000 km away. I was at Harry Perkin's Medical Institute, which is linked to the University of Western Australia. This stay has given me a more global vision of the world, I have met many cultures totally different from those of the West and I have been able to learn a lot.

What similarities or differences do you see between the center you have been to and Tecnun?

It is a difficult question. I think they are different. Tecnun is one of the most prestigious universities in Spain, but Harry Perkin's is in the top 20 medical research centers in Australia. Several disciplines work together, from surgeons, biologists, biochemists to engineers of different branches (mechanical, biomedical...). It is true that as in Tecnun, the group I was in is small (3 PhD students and several students of Degree and masters). They focus on the fabrication of heart valves using MEW and worked closely with surgeons and cardiologists.

Do you think that this subject of stays are useful for networking and, perhaps, to strengthen ties between universities?

Undoubtedly. In addition to giving the opportunity to student to meet new research groups and new ways of working, both groups benefit. In general, when doing a stay the research center is dedicated to something similar and the results are of interest to both parties. On the other hand, it opens the way for new collaborations and for other students to exchange.

What has been your work during these months of stay?

During these months I have focused on learning the MEW technique, which as I mentioned before allows to create custom Structures through a G-code. It is like a 3D printer but a potential differential is applied to a molten polymer creating filaments in the order of microns. By varying its manufacturing parameters, fibers and Structures with different mechanical/morphological properties are obtained. I have then carried out the mechanical characterization of these Structures, measuring the elastic module , diameters, pores etc. These Structures which we call "scaffolds" together with the membranes that I have fabricated during my thesis with "electrospinning" will allow us to test new constructs for the ocular tissue that I am investigating.

What has it given you in terms of staff and professionally?

Personally, it has given me a more global vision of the world. It has been a very enriching experience, I have met many people from all continents and the cultural shock has been curious. At the same time, it has helped me to learn to be "alone" or to face difficulties in an unknown country. Getting out of my comfort zone, which in the end is where you really grow personally. On the professional side, it has been wonderful to deal with people from different disciplines, see their work live and enjoy the talks they gave. In addition, I had the opportunity to participate in the lecture "ASBTE" of Western Australia and present my project. It was a nice way to practice communication skills.

Besides the work itself, what about the experience of spending four months there?

I have no words. I have come back in love with Australia. The people are wonderful, super friendly and always willing to help you. The landscape is incomparable, they take great care of the environment, all the beaches and natural parks were very well cared for. The wildlife is incredible, it is amazing and beautiful to see exotic animals such as kangaroos, kaktúas or pelicans free in nature.

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