Science-- there's something for everyone

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New use for IKEA pencils

Anyone who shops at IKEA is familiar with those handy little pencils they offer their patrons for marking lists and noting measurements. Now Karen Eley and Stephen Watt-Smith of the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford have documented a novel use for the pencils: marking bones during surgery.

It turns out that pencils leave better impressions on bones than other kinds of marking implements. For example, pen ink doesn’t always transfer well to bone and can be washed off too easily by irrigation or bodily fluids. The only problem with the pencils is that the wood sometimes cracks during autoclaving (a sterilization process). Eley and Watt-Smith overcame this problem by wrapping silicon cuffs around the pencils.

The pencils are already so popular that many people either purposefully or inadvertently steal them. Hopefully, this new usage won’t add orthopedic surgeons to the list of miscreants.

Photo by McLeod, 2005.