Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Mechanical Engineering–Engineering Mechanics (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics


Craig R. Friedrich


Intracochlear trauma from surgical insertion of bulky electrode arrays and inadequate pitch perception are areas of concern with current hand-assembled commercial cochlear implants. Parylene thin-film arrays with higher electrode densities and lower profiles are a potential solution, but lack rigidity and hence depend on manually fabricated permanently attached polyethylene terephthalate (PET) tubing based bulky backing devices. As a solution, we investigated a new backing device with two sub-systems. The first sub-system is a thin poly(lactic acid) (PLA) stiffener that will be embedded in the parylene array. The second sub-system is an attaching and detaching mechanism, utilizing a poly(N-vinylpyrrolidone)-block-poly(d,l-lactide) (PVP-b-PDLLA) copolymer-based biodegradable and water soluble adhesive, that will help to retract the PET insertion tool after implantation.

As a proof-of-concept of sub-system one, a microfabrication process for patterning PLA stiffeners embedded in parylene has been developed. Conventional hotembossing, mechanical micromachining, and standard cleanroom processes were integrated for patterning fully released and discrete stiffeners coated with parylene. The released embedded stiffeners were thermoformed to demonstrate that imparting perimodiolar shapes to stiffener-embedded arrays will be possible. The developed process when integrated with the array fabrication process will allow fabrication of stiffener-embedded arrays in a single process.

As a proof-of-concept of sub-system two, the feasibility of the attaching and detaching mechanism was demonstrated by adhering 1x and 1.5x scale PET tube-based insertion tools and PLA stiffeners embedded in parylene using the copolymer adhesive. The attached devices survived qualitative adhesion tests, thermoforming, and flexing. The viability of the detaching mechanism was tested by aging the assemblies in-vitro in phosphate buffer solution. The average detachment times, 2.6 minutes and 10 minutes for 1x and 1.5x scale devices respectively, were found to be clinically relevant with respect to the reported array insertion times during surgical implantation. Eventually, the stiffener-embedded arrays would not need to be permanently attached to current insertion tools which are left behind after implantation and congest the cochlear scala tympani chamber.

Finally, a simulation-based approach for accelerated failure analysis of PLA stiffeners and characterization of PVP-b-PDLLA copolymer adhesive has been explored. The residual functional life of embedded PLA stiffeners exposed to body-fluid and thereby subjected to degradation and erosion has been estimated by simulating PLA stiffeners with different parylene coating failure types and different PLA types for a given parylene coating failure type. For characterizing the PVP-b-PDLLA copolymer adhesive, several formulations of the copolymer adhesive were simulated and compared based on the insertion tool detachment times that were predicted from the dissolution, degradation, and erosion behavior of the simulated adhesive formulations. Results indicate that the simulation-based approaches could be used to reduce the total number of time consuming and expensive in-vitro tests that must be conducted.