ACADEMIC RESEARCH IN ALABAMA

Published in Interface. Vol. 2, No. 2, May 1994

University of Alabama at Birmingham

by Eric Bradford

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has grown over the years into an internationally recognized institution of medical and basic science research. A campus size of 70 city blocks in the heart of downtown Birmingham is needed to accommodate the 17,000 students, 1,700 full-time faculty, and various teaching and research facilities. Along with being named the nation's top "up-and-coming" university by U.S. News & World Report (1993), UAB's University Hospital has been ranked among the best 25 hospitals in the nation (1990). With more than 15,000 employees, UAB provides a huge economic boost to the state by serving as Alabama's largest employer.

UAB has taken an active role in the use of the supercomputing facilities provided by the Alabama Supercomputer Network since the onset of the project. Investigations ranging from medical, basic science, sociology, and public health studies have been conducted which have provided material for numerous publications; three of these investigations are discussed below.

Dr. Xizeng Wu from the Department of Radiology performs Monte Carlo simulations on x-ray photon transport in breast tissue for mammography. Presently, x-ray mammography is the most accurate means to detect breast cancers when they are too small to feel. However, due to the risks associated with radiation exposure, radiation dose to the breast should always be monitored and kept as low as possible. According to Dr. Wu, to determine radiation levels to the breast in mammography exams, one needs a dose conversion-factor table to calculate breast tissue dose from the measured radiation exposure in the exam. Based on the Monte Carlo simulations done on the ASA Cray, Dr. Wu and his collaborators Drs. Barnes and Tucker published such a dose conversion-factor table in Radiology. Currently, this dose table has been adopted as the standard dose conversion-factor table by the American College of Radiology Mammography Accreditation Program, by which all mammography units (about 10,000 in US) are required to be accredited.

In the quest for improved and more efficient semiconductors, researchers are searching for new materials as well as different combinations of "building blocks" for answers. In UAB's Department of Physics, Dr. Joseph G. Harrison is investigating semiconductor improvements from both angles. Dr. Harrison uses the Cray to investigate the semiconducting potential of a material which has the desirable properties of diamond (hardness, high thermal conductivity) yet it can easily be doped to create semiconductor material. A second project involves the study of cluster-assembled material. In this approach, rather than atomic or molecular building blocks, one uses clusters as the fundamental unit. This can lead to new properties not found in conventionally fabricated material. In addition to extensive use of the Cray for his research, Dr. Harrison also represents UAB on the ASA Client Advisory Group.

Dr. Martha Warren Bidez and her research group perform structural analysis calculations on endosseous dental implants. This type of research is important because of the large number of people who either are losing or have lost teeth. One of their present projects is the study of a cantilevered prosthesis supported by six dental implants (Figure 4). The dental implants provide support to the arch-shaped prosthesis with posterior extensions. Physical forces such as the muscle and bite forces are applied (using ANSYS on the Cray) to the mandible model. This research enables the group to determine the stress, strain, and displacements throughout the prosthesis, implants, and mandible as a result of biting force applied to the end of the prosthesis extensions.