Written by Katherine MacGilvray

The Corporate Internship Program on Plasma Technology Applications (CIPPTA), open to undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, focuses on offering its participants a unique opportunity to develop plasma technology applications while networking with industry and academic professionals. Sponsored by the Alabama NSF EPSCoR CPU2AL project, CIPPTA caught the eye of Vincent Hembrick-Holloman who is earning his Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering at Tuskegee University.

“NSF EPSCoR has been funding my research for the last two to three years,” he explains. “They host annual meetings and at one they were giving out information on CIPPTA. I was very interested in the program and the companies involved so I applied online.”


Hembrick-Holloman spent his 10-week internship based at Evonik Industries, a pharmaceutical company in Birmingham, Alabama, where he studied the effect of plasma treatment on interlayer bonding of 3D printed fused deposition modeling (FDM) parts.


In recent years, 3D printing technology has revolutionized the medical and pharmaceutical fields, allowing the production of patient-specific implants from a variety of biomaterials, including metals, ceramics, polymers, and composites. These custom devices can then be incorporated with bioactive drugs, cells, and proteins, thus changing the conventional ways engineers design and manufacture medical devices. 3D printing has shown enormous promise in further developing prostheses, drug-delivery devices, tissue engineering, and regenerative medicine. FDM has proved a cost-effective and timely means of producing these customized parts. The problem? FDM printed parts are weak due to insufficient interlayer bonding.


Under the mentorship of Dr. Andrew Wood and Dr. Jian-Feng Zhang, and with industrial advisor Balaji Prabhu, all with the Evonik Medical Device Competence Center, Hembrick-Holloman worked on incorporating plasma technology to help increase the mechanical strength of 3D printed parts.


“Plasma surface modification is a technique used to functionalize surfaces, improve surface energy, and reduce the contact angle by introduction of plasma on the surface,” Hembrick-Holloman explains. “This process can be used as a potential treatment to enhance the interlayer bonding by altering the surface properties and chemical make-up of filament surfaces for 3D printing without changing the bulk properties of the overall material.”


In addition to revealing the potential of continued research on plasma treatment, Hembrick-Holloman’s experience at Evonik enabled him to develop his engineering skills and biomaterials research experience in a fast-paced, industrial research setting. “When I started, I was very eager and intrigued to learn which helped me naturally become more knowledgeable in many key areas of studying polymers and biomaterials for medical devices.”


He also spent the first two weeks of his internship undergoing safety training, learning how to operate the equipment he would be using, and was introduced to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and Good Documentation Practices (GDP).


“I had a wonderful experience with the internship and everyone at Evonik. I was able to work in a very engaging and innovative environment where I made connections with some industry leaders in the field of biomaterials. Being able to simply talk and pick their brains really helped me understand how to go about being a professional at my craft.  Also, the ability to apply hands-on research in a field that I plan on going into after my Ph.D. was very helpful for my professional career.”


His advice for future applicants? “I would definitely encourage them to apply.” And if they’re accepted? “Make connections and network. Go there with a plan so that you aren’t simply reacting to requests. Be proactive about the opportunity and nothing but good things will come from the internship.”