BME undergrad design competition stresses real-world challenges
art of a unique curriculum infused with real-world
design opportunities, a new competition for BME under-graduate students
places an even greater emphasis on applying their engineering knowledge
to actual problems in biology and medicine.
The Tong Biomedical Engineering Student Design Awards
reward BME undergraduate teams that design innovative solutions and
develop outstanding prototypes. Their work addresses real challenges
that University of Wisconsin medical and life sciences faculty and biomedical
companies face and offer for the students to solve.
Alum Peter Tong (center) sponsored the competition to encourage
BME undergrads to learn through developing clinically relevant,
real-world design solutions.
The inaugural competition took place May 4, when nearly
150 biomedical engineering students displayed posters and prototypes
of medical devices and innovations that they designed and refined for
a semester or more.These inventions—among them, a bioreactor for
tissue engineering, a system for reliably calibrating a cardiovascular
catheter to measure internal blood pressures, and coatings that may
reduce infections from urinary catheter use—showcase student initiative,
ingenuity and creativity.
Thank You, Judges!
Judges for the 2007 Tong Biomedical Engineering
of Research Awards, Wallace H. Coulter Foundation
Executive, GE Healthcare
Member of the Board and CEO Emeritus, Platypus Technologies
Scientist and Manager, Applied Science Lab, MR Body and Vascular
Team, GE Healthcare
Account Manager, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Life Science Research
and CEO, Lumen Biomedical
“The BME program itself has a heavy emphasis
on getting students to really understand the problems they’re
trying to solve—versus just coming up with a solution that may
not work at all for the clinical environment,” says electrical
and computer engineering alumnus Peter Tong, who via the Tong Family
Foundation sponsors the competition.
A panel of six external judges evaluated the student
designs and prototypes based on their technical merit, functionality,
appearance and construction, and adherence to client requirements. One
student team from each class—sophomore, junior and senior—received
a Tong Biomedical Engineering Design Award (see
In addition, a follow-up award provides funding and
employment for up to two groups to further research, develop and protect
their designs in collaboration with a biomedical engineering faculty
member. “A prototype is probably one of the most essential tools
for engineers to validate whether what they have in mind is practical,”
says Tong. “Particularly for entrepreneurs, who are going to raise
capital to do what will fulfill their dreams, if they have a feasible
model, or a ‘good prototype,’ they probably will have a
higher chance of raising the capital they need.”
The Tong competition contributes deeply to the department
culture of integrated education, discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship.
The department is home to the only biomedical engineering undergraduate
program in the country that requires real-world design projects every
semester for every biomedical engineering student, says Professor and
Chair Robert Radwin.
“Creating new medical instruments, making the
world accessible to people with disabilities, or developing new therapeutic
devices requires that we educate engineers in multiple disciplines,
foster innovation, and instill a strong command of design,” he
says. “The Department of Biomedical Engineering has taken up that
challenge by educating a new type of biomedical engineer who is equally
adept in engineering and the biosciences, and who is skilled in applying
their knowledge through the process of design.”
In the design courses, “clients” include
university medical and life sciences faculty, biomedical engineering
companies and, occasionally, individuals with specific rehabilitation
needs. At the start of each semester, students choose projects, form
teams, schedule meetings and plan brainstorming sessions. Then they
spend long hours experimenting and designing their devices. The intensive
process requires that teams meet regularly and file progress reports
with their mentor or client company.
The process mirrors the kind of environment the students
will encounter in their professional careers, says Tong. “It’s
not a one-shot deal—it’s a continuous process and the department
promotes very good teamwork among the students,” he says. “Faculty
teach the students how to work together and that is also very unique.
This is not a solo, one-man job. In industry, very seldom can you do
things by yourself anymore. You really have to work with a team.
Several past projects have been very successful and
have led to some unique, patentable designs, says Radwin. “Every
year, a number of biomedical engineering student design projects are
accepted by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation for patenting and
licensing,” he says. “At least one recent project has already
spun off into a startup company. I anticipate that this process will
be greatly accelerated through the Tong follow-up awards.”
The students’ efforts culminated in a final
presentation at the May 4 Biomedical Engineering Student Design Expo,
a public event that offers each team the opportunity to demonstrate
and explain its project and to participate in the Tong competition.
• Sophomores Chou
Mai, Jason Tham, Robyn
Hrobsky and Aaron Freis designed
the fine-needle aspiration improvement. For client Dr. Frederick
Kelcz, a radiologist at UW Hospital, the students delivered
a mechanical-electrical device that improves on the current
manual method for obtaining tissue samples for diagnosis.
• Juniors Jimmy Fong,
Jack Page, Ryan
Thome, Becky Jones and
Matt Valaskey invented an auditory substitution device
that uses vibro-tactile stimulation to substitute for regional
frequency hearing loss for client and audiologist Veronica Heide.
• For client Darryl
Thelen, associate professor of biomedical and mechanical
engineering who studies such sports-related injuries as hamstring
tears, seniors Eric Bader, Arinne
Lyman, Christopher Westphal
and Sarajane Stevens developed a device
that can image and measure muscle motion and joint kinematics
during movement under load.
Two teams also received additional funding to conduct further
research and development of their designs:
• Under Associate Professor John
Kao and and Assistant Professor Naomi
Chesler, seniors Ashley Huth and
Claire Flanigan will continue work
on their project, “Interpenetrating networks for delivery
• Under Associate Professor Darryl
Thelen and Assistant Professor William
Murphy, Chris Westphal and Eric
Bader (who graduated in May) will continue work on their
project, “A device for inducing active lengthening muscle
contractions for dynamic MR imaging.”