UW-Madison: Thirty-plus medical inventions debut at undergraduate design competition

CONTACT: Robert Radwin, 608-263-6596, [email protected]

MADISON – On Friday, May 1, some 150 University of Wisconsin-Madison biomedical engineering students will showcase 34 novel devices that address myriad real-world medical challenges.

Entered in the Tong Biomedical Engineering Design Competition, the students’ inventions will be on display from noon-3 p.m. in the Engineering Centers Building, 1550 Engineering Drive at UW-Madison. The competition awards ceremony is at 3:30 p.m.

The biomedical engineering (BME) students’ inventions include a phonetics-based communication device for children with significant communication disorders; a patient-transfer table for magnetic resonance imaging-guided liver-cancer treatment; and a low-cost spirometer for diagnosing pulmonary diseases in third-world countries.

Building their prototypes enables the medically minded students to gain valuable experience in such areas as computer-aided design, machining and electronics.

Of equal importance, however, are the communication skills students develop as they work with their “clients” – physicians, clinicians, industry representatives and engineers – to brainstorm and refine their designs.

JoAnne Robbins is longtime client. A professor of medicine who specializes in swallowing and geriatrics and sees patients at the William S. Middleton VA Hospital and UW Hospital and Clinics, Robbins has worked with BME teams on several projects. This semester, her student team is designing an inexpensive, pocket-sized device that patients with swallowing disorders can use to “exercise” their tongue. Past projects with BME student teams have yielded a patent, a spinoff company and several published research papers.

A professor of pediatrics, Chris Green is among several repeat clients who say they enjoy interacting with the biomedical engineering (BME) students. “I have a strong interest in the instrumentation used in medicine,” he says. “I get a chance to talk with students who have minds that work like mine. Therefore, we communicate well. I can give them ideas about clinical medicine and identify problems to solve. They can use their engineering and analytical skills to develop solutions.”

This semester, Green and a team of BME seniors are collaborating to develop a more comfortable, multifunctional device that could unobtrusively gather data from pediatric patients visiting the Wisconsin Sleep Clinic. In addition, he is working with BME sophomores on improving equipment physicians use to collect bronchoalveolar fluid samples from patients with respiratory problems.

Green spends about 20 hours each semester meeting with his student teams. A busy practicing clinician, he says that time is worthwhile. “I look at the university as a whole enterprise. We’re all in this together,” he says. “As faculty, we should do what we can to promote the teaching mission of the university. These projects give the biomedical engineering students valuable practical experience.”

The Tong Biomedical Engineering Design Competition is free and open to the public. Pay-as-you-enter public parking is available in the adjacent ramp.