Engineering Fresh Faces: Kathryn Grandfield

Engineering professor Kathryn Grandfield sits at a table talking

Photo by Jin Lee

Welcome to Fresh Faces. In this series, we’re highlighting 43 Engineering faculty members, all hired within the last five years, who are doing interesting and innovative things in the lab and the classroom.

Kathryn Grandfield is an assistant professor in the department of Materials Science & Engineering and the School of Biomedical Engineering, and is a two-time Dean’s Honour Role instructor. She joined McMaster in 2013. Here, she talks about the fascination of seeing the world really, really, really up close – and Westworld.

On the wonders of looking at bone at the nanoscale

My research group is focused on biomaterials for bone implant applications – devices like hip joint replacements and dental implants, to see how these materials integrate with bone tissue.

We use the microscopes in the Canadian Centre for Electron Microscopy because we’re interested in seeing the interaction of these materials at the nanoscale.

If you imagine using a telescope to see stars that are far away, we’re doing the exact opposite – we’re going down, step by step, to look at something extremely close up.

It’s fascinating to see our body at this level. Bone, for instance, has a hierarchical structure – and while many of us are familiar with the cortical bone, which is the hard shell on the outside, and the spongy trabecular bone on the inside, when you get down to the nanoscale, bone has several levels of distinct architecture that govern its function and properties, like strength.

On working with students

I like the fact that the work we do has the potential to be impactful for people – that we can see the real benefits of our research.

I also love to see the students learning and being proud of the work they do, and realizing that they’re able to make an impact too.

If I’m grappling with a tough problem, I try to engage my students. If you’re thinking about a solution on your own, you may not be getting the full picture or all of the potential answers. That’s the fun part of my job – seeing people with different ideas than I have, and discovering where that can take us.

On engineering as a career

I always wanted a career that would be challenging, that would involve me innovating and solving problems.

In engineering, our job is to be creative about solving problems – we’ll always have something new to do, because there are always problems to solve.

On the differences between North America and Sweden

Studying and working abroad is one of the best learning experience you can have, both as a student and as a future academic.

You learn that people study and do research in different ways in different places, and exposure to that allows you to adopt the most productive way for you.

That was especially evident in Sweden where they’re very productive with their time – but they value taking the time to clear your mind (especially over a coffee break) and be refreshed, which allows you to be more productive in the day.

On influential people in her life

Different people have influenced me at different times. I was strongly influenced by a mentor at a summer camp that I went to in high school. He said that what you want in life is to wake up every day excited to go to work, and end the day excited to go home. That’s a fantastic philosophy.

On the wonders of Westworld

I’m watching Westworld on HBO right now. I love it! It’s very sci fi, and I like that it’s futuristic. It incorporates great acting, biomedical engineering and artificial intelligence – it definitely appeals to the nerd in me.

On scuba diving

Two of the best places I’ve been scuba diving have been Egypt and South Africa. I’m amazed at how different the world is under the water – it really reminds you that there’s more than just us, and we have to be concerned about much more than just the air we breathe. There’s a whole other ecosystem that affects us, but we don’t see it every day.

In the lab…

I like to operate the instruments with my students, even though I don’t get the chance to do that much any more.

Outside the lab…

I like to do a number of things – swim, yoga, and more recently, rock climbing with my fiancé. Anything to challenge myself.

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