Mihaela Vlasea

Mihaela Vlasea might have headed off to medical school after earning her Bachelor of Applied Science degree in mechatronics engineering at the University of Waterloo.

Instead, she chose to stay to push three-dimensional (3D) printing into new territory: Bone replacements that have the porosity and function of the real thing.

For thousands of Canadians facing surgery to deal with the pain of faulty joints, this holds the possibility of improved, lasting remedies.

“I could see where my technique would have an impact right away,’’ Vlasea says.

Researchers prefer the term “additive manufacturing” to describe any one of several processes that produce three-dimensional objects by fusing together material one tiny layer or strand at a time. Heat and organic or inorganic binders can all play a role in the process.

Focused light, often in the form of lasers, offers one source. Vlasea’s work involves ultraviolet light, an inorganic binder, and a compound called calcium polyphosphate.

Although it has been around for almost 27 years, additive manufacturing has only recently — over the last five years — drawn wide, wonderstruck attention in and out of the academic community.

Read more in the most recent edition of the Waterloo Magazine