April 27, 2011
Senior Design for Biomedical Engineering majors at Stevens Institute of Technology pairs student teams with clinicians to identify unmet needs in the field and develop technology solutions that improve patient outcomes, recovery times, and quality of life. The experience can also be transformational for students in their final year of undergraduate education.
"Early into our project we went water-skiing with a group of quadriplegics," reports the BA Quad team, which has been developing a hand brake geared towards quadriplegics. "We immediately saw the passion within this group and recognized how our project could benefit so many people."
Senior Projects in Biomedical Engineering are unique in that they require broad engineering skills and are directly geared towards recognized needs in the medical industry. Although each project has a foundation built on physiological/biological processes and the assessed needs of patients and clinicians, students must dig deep to apply all their knowledge in interdisciplinary pursuits.
Members of the TechnoTriage team appreciated the interdisciplinary nature of their project. "Our project is basically a computer, so we have used a lot of circuitry and computer engineering skills. When choosing this project, I knew it would be interesting to have to use such a wide scope to accomplish the task."
"I'm also doing a Master's in Systems Engineering," says Eleanor Panico of the MERC team. Her team is developing a sensor-equipped epidural needle that can help increase accuracy of epidural injections. "I want to build on the systems understanding inherent to Biomedical Engineering and work with companies on improving outcomes."
"Your general engineering courses come back to you," says the BA Quad team, which relied heavily on principles from Mechanical and Electrical Engineering for their hand brake. "The Senior Design process allows you to revisit the other disciplines and use what you learned in all your classes."
The entrepreneurial aspect of Biomedical Engineering is heavily promoted by Associate Program Director and Industry Professor Dr. Vikki Hazelwood, a veteran of the biomedical device industry. The design teams not only do their due diligence in engineering, but also research other companies, comparable price points in the current market, and the atmosphere for biomedical start-up companies. With guidance from Dr. Hazelwood and other professor-professionals in the department, Biomedical Engineering majors fare exceptionally well at regional and international student research presentation competitions.
For pre-med students, Senior Design offers an inside look into the medical field and the process of translational research: taking a problem out of the clinic and into a lab to find a solution. This experience allows students to see both the challenges and opportunities to clinician-researcher collaborations. It also allows them to deal hands-on with techniques and problems that doctors and therapists confront every day, and explore new avenues for their careers after graduation.
Several members of the Thermal Domination team are pre-med, and chose the project given their interest in surgery. When researching the market for their novel, conduction-based electrocautery device, the team says, "We saw that there was nothing new coming into this space." Now that they have calibrated their cautery tool, they are ready to hand it off to their clinical advisor for trials.
As graduation approaches, these students look forward to exciting careers in one of the top-rated fields in America today, and also backwards on the lessons learned throughout their time at Stevens.
"You really get to use this opportunity to move past theoretical design and apply all of your experience to this project," says the MERC team. "This is a real medical technology and will have direct impact on our lives ahead."