College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Engineering quality for healthier hearts

Emma Wolf in the Mirka lab at Iowa State.

Emma Wolf in the Mirka lab at Iowa State.

Emma Wolf, industrial engineering, had no idea when she arrived at Iowa State University as an undeclared engineering major she would end up landing a job in quality control for medical devices. Specifically, heart valves and occluders.

Exploration was top of her list as she started looking for places to go to college, a school providing a variety of options. Iowa State – and industrial engineering – provided the answer.

When Wolf arrived on campus she knew two things: She loved problem solving and she wanted to work with people.

The problem solver in Wolf had her leaning towards engineering. Her desire to work with people had her leaning towards business.

An exploratory class taught by Leslie Potter, distinguished teaching professor of industrial and manufacturing systems, introduced her to industrial engineering, a major that checked both of those boxes.

So how did she find her way into the world of medical device manufacturing? Abbott Laboratories was at the College of Engineering Career Fair. As a popular employer option, the line of waiting students seemed endless. 

Wolf decided to find a place in line. “It was definitely worth the wait,” she says.

Her conversation landed her an internship with Abbott Laboratories working in electrophysiology, where she worked on mapping catheters, a non-invasive way to explore heart issues laparoscopically.

The next summer, Wolf had a second internship with Abbott Laboratories, this time working in the structural heart department working as a manufacturing intern directly with the delivery systems (the catheter portion) for occluders and indirectly with heart valves.

The job is never static, something Wolf loves.

“It’s really important to make sure what’s going out of the facility is doing what it’s supposed to,” says Wolf. “Everything is done manually. There is healthy tissue attached to devices to make sure when it’s implanted it attaches to the tissue of the human subject. There’s a very short window of time before the tissue starts to decay.”

What has she liked most about her experience as an industrial engineering student? “Community” she says.

Wolf loves the feeling of familiarity with her fellow industrial engineering students and teachers.

For Wolf, specifically, her experience working in University Professor Gary Mirka’s laboratories was a perfect bridge to her work at Abbott Laboratories, where she has accepted a full-time job offer as quality engineer after graduation.