Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Transforming the Kansas economy with fiber, resin and heat

Sept. 25, 2009, 12:22 p.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

A few weeks ago I held in my hand what looked like the handle of a salad tong. Dark-colored, curved, and lightweight, it was really a surgical retractor made from composites instead of metal. Up close the fibers were arranged in a criss-cross pattern, like a tweed jacket. To create it, the fibers were covered with resin and heated in an autoclave. The result is a product completely different from its metal counterpart.

The retractor was lightweight yet strong, requiring at least 60 pounds of force to break it. Even more important, it was x-ray translucent. Used in place of a metal retractor during surgery means it can be left in place instead of being moved several times.

Fiber, resin and heat are the building blocks of aviation composites. The Center of Innovation for Biomaterials in Orthopaedic Research (CIBOR) is working to make them the building blocks of a new industry in Kansas: the manufacture of orthopedic medical devices. Knight Foundation's grant announced today, $2.1 million over five years, will help make this vision real.

Our grant will build the composite laboratory where this new work will happen. In just a few years the CIBOR team hopes to create new medical devices that can be manufactured here in Kansas, leading to new jobs and a more diverse economy.

Is it risky? Sure. Even with the best of plans, plans change. But the CIBOR team has what it takes to be transformational: vision, courage, tenacity and know-how. They're committed to improve the quality of life for people with acute and chronic orthopedic conditions. And they're committed to create new opportunities for Kansans.

Sometimes the simplest discoveries become the greatest. I'm optimistic that discovering new uses for composites can lead to the greatest possibilities for our state and its people.