Harvard Engineering Students Present Solutions in Medical Device Design

Physicians looking to make surgeries safer took some cutting-edge questions in medical device design to a group of Harvard students, who presented their attempts at solutions this week.

The undergraduate and graduate students of Engineering Sciences 227 displayed their designs—some intended to solve problems that have previously confounded researchers worldwide—to surgeons and engineers at a fair on Monday.

The course, now in its second year, offered engineering students the opportunity to develop a project with the potential to affect surgical procedures, according to mechanical and biomedical engineering professor Conor J. Walsh, who teaches it.

Students and professors at the fair in Pierce Hall were eager to hear about the new breakthroughs and feats of engineering produced by the class. However, every project was tagged with a confidentiality notice cautioning that specifics of the projects cannot be broadcast.

For some students, the chance to physically manufacture a device after designing it was most rewarding.

"Actually building the device—that was a special experience," said Oliver Schoppe, a visiting student who took the class.

It was a work-intensive experience as well. Qian Wan, a graduate student who was one of Schoppe’s project partners, said, "There was definitely a lot to absorb very quickly."

Graduate student Carlos Pardo added, "This was a crash course in design—in six weeks we needed to have a prototype. However, our professor guided us and cut it into small pieces."

The students worked with physicians who guided their projects and provided frequent access to hospitals and special equipment.

"Students and physicians develop a very close relationship. All of the physicians spend many hours providing the medical background to the students, meeting with them, Skyping with them, and bringing them into the hospital environment," Walsh said.

"All the physicians came with medical needs," said graduate student Kimberly M. Murdaugh ’11.

Murdaugh’s group successfully completed a project that others had failed at before.

According to group member Alexander Isakov ’11, a graduate student, researchers both at MIT and in India had unsucessfully tried their task before they began it.

When asked why their attempt succeeded, William C. Burke ’12 noted that they did not try to build on previous designs or prototypes. "We started from nothing," he said.

Like other engineering classes in the 200s, ES 227 is open to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Such classes traditionally attract more graduate students than undergraduates. ES 227, however, was nearly evenly split.

"This year the class had 16 students with seven undergraduates, which is great to see," Walsh said.

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