Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Engineering Science

Major Professor

David C. Joy

Committee Members

Roberto S. Benson, Carl J. McHargue, Paul J. Phillips, Jack F. Wasserman


Tibial bearings of ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) were characterized to identify differences in morphology, surface texture (roughness and skewness), and micro-scale mechanical behavior. These orthopaedic implant components were fabricated by direct molding or by machining after isostatic compression molding. Sterilization was by gamma irradiation (3.3 Mrad) in air, followed by shelf aging for 2 years. Comparisons were made between unsterile and sterile bearings to identify differences in structure and properties related to wear debris.

Characterization methods included confocal optical microscopy, nanoindentation , small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), wide-angle X-ray diffraction (WAXD), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), and polarized light microscopy. Morphology was compared between bulk and surface (top and bottom) specimens of the bearings. Cryo-microtomy was used to prepare thin specimens transverse to the top surface for polarized microscopy. Nanoindentation was performed on the top bearing surfaces, near areas examined by confocal microscopy.

Processing methods affected both small- and large-scale morphology of UHMWPE. Direct molding produced thinner lamellae, thicker long periods, and slightly lower crystallinity than isostatic compression molding. Both bearing types contained a thick interface between the crystalline and amorphous phases. Interfacial free energy varied with interface thickness. Resin particles were consolidated better in direct molded bearings than in machined bearings. Segregated amorphous regions were observed in the machined bearings.

Sterilization and shelf aging affected nanometer-scale morphology. Chain scission significantly decreased the interface thickness, causing an increase in lamellar thickness and a small increase in crystallinity. Only a small decrease in the amorphous thickness resulted. Heterogeneous oxidation increased these changes in interface thickness and lamellar thickness at the surfaces. Thin lamellae were created in the direct molded bearing, uniformly through its thickness, following chain scission and crystallization at low temperature.

Both surface roughness and morphology affected micromechanical behavior by nanoindentation. Indents must extend deeper than the peak-to-valley height (2 - 11 m) of surface features, near the scale of wear debris. Hardness and elastic modulus correlated with lamellar thickness. Machined bearings were harder and stiffer than direct molded bearings. Sterilization increased lamellar thickness, so properties of the sterile, molded bearing approached those of the unsterile, machined bearing.

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