The Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering continued its domination of the Capstone Design Expo at the Georgia Institute of Technology. For the third straight semester, a Coulter Department team took top prize as the overall winner in the expo.
Twice every school year, senior engineering teams from across the spectrum at Georgia Tech come together for the expo, a judged showcase of innovative solutions, a public unveiling of prototype products designed to address real-world problems.
This version of the expo ended like the fall version – with three BME teams taking home an award. The prize for Best Overall Project went to Shunt Doubles, a team of five BME undergrads who may also deserve a special prize for their team name. Sanjay Sridaran, Yitian Xiao, Shahram Kazemi, Hoang Nguyen and Inez Raharjo teamed up to win the largest Capstone Design Expo ever. Another team of BME students, OculoStaple, won the overall prize in the fall expo.
“BME was really fortunate once again, because there were a lot of great teams from all departments in the spring competition,” says James Rains, Director of Capstone for the Coulter Department. “So, from our point of view, this was a great competition.”
The spring edition held on April 23 in McCamish Pavillion was the largest Capstone Design Expo yet. It included 198 projects designed by 1,040 students from 11 disciplines across three colleges – the College of Engineering, the College of Architecture, and the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. More than 75 sponsors funded projects with Coca-Cola sponsoring the expo itself.
In addition to Shunt Doubles, a team called Kids on the Move took consisting of BME students and a Mechanical Engineering student, took first place in the Interdisciplinary competition. Also, teams in the Capstone competition vie for awards within their discipline, so the Biomedical Engineering Award went to a Coulter Department team calling itself ULTra Efficient Storage.
BME had more than 30 teams in the competition and nine of them, including Shunt Doubles, were sponsored by Ian’s Friends Foundation (IFF), an Atlanta-based non-profit (501c3) organization that supports pediatric brain tumor research. So nine BME teams focused their efforts along those lines.
Shunt Doubles set out to develop a safe, reliable, and noninvasive method for assessing shunt functionality, which meets a specific need. Cerebral shunts are the current standard of treatment for children and adults with hydrocephalus, a condition in which cerebrospinal fluid builds up in the brain, causing increased intracranial pressure and other side effects. These shunts are fraught with problems, one of which is the inability to noninvasively assess shunt functionality; a needle probe is the main method used currently, which means a trip to the physician’s office, or the hospital.
“If the shunt gets blocked, or there is a problem with the flow, one of the main symptoms is a headache. People have headaches all the time, but you don’t always know if it’s a problem with the shunt,” says Rains. “Imagine every time you had a headache, running to the hospital to get it checked. So this is a cool idea.”
BME teams had plenty of cool ideas. Kids on the Move won the top prize for developing a new, lighter, more cost-effective device that will enable children and adults who live with differing levels of paralysis to play golf and remain physically active and healthy. This device should be adjustable or at least, adaptable in order to effectively enable play for children confined to wheelchairs.
The team, comprised of four BME seniors (Blair Naples, Jackson Thomas, Matthew Brooks, Jared Heimer) and one senior from Mechanical Engineering (Alexander Pergakis), was sponsored by the Chiari & Syringomyelia Foundation (CSF). Legendary golfer Bobby Jones suffered from syringomyelia (build-up of spinal fluid). At the annual Bobby Jones Classic for CSF (a fundraiser tournament that will happen May 17-18 at East Lake Golf Club), the new golf cart device will get a test run.
The team name for the BME department award winner – ULTra Efficient Storage – is particularly accurate. The team, comprised of BME seniors Nathan Fisher, Michele Mandula, Matthew Woods and Prisco Demercurio, aims to efficiently revolutionize biological sample storage in ultra-low temperature freezers.
Their system will store more samples of adequate volume for modern assays in a given freezer volume, be applicable on an individual freezer basis, and be compatible with current laboratory equipment. Ultra-low temperature freezers are expensive, so this is a big cost and space saver.
“For people who actually do research, this is huge,” says Rains. “Those people absolutely love this project.”
Capstone Design is a required semester-long course for all Georgia Tech engineering students, bringing teams of seniors together with advisors (who typically come from a research or industry environment) to design, build and test prototypes across a broad range of challenges. The first place team in the overall competition won $3,000 while the interdisciplinary and department award winning teams each won $1,000.
Ultimately, win or lose, student teams in Capstone Design have a chance to utilize the engineering design skills they’ve developed at Georgia Tech to create something tangible in response to real-world, open-ended problems. Teams develop their prototypes with thoughts of eventual commercialization. The program is a foundational piece in a growing emphasis on entrepreneurship education at BME and Georgia Tech.
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