A team of recent Penn Bioengineering graduates have been included in list of prominent young Philadelphia innovators as chosen by The Philadelphia Business Journal and PHL Inno.
Gabriella Daltoso, Sophie Ishiwari, Gabriela Cano, Caroline Amanda Magro, and Tifara Eliana Boyce founded Sonura as their Senior Design Project in Bioengineering. The team, who all graduated in 2023, picked up a competitive President’s Innovation Prize for their beanie that promotes the cognitive and socioemotional development of newborns in the NICU by protecting them from the auditory hazards of their environments while fostering parental connection. Now, they have been included in the list of fourteen Inno Under 25 honorees for 2023.
“To determine this year’s list, the Philadelphia Business Journal and PHL Inno sought nominations from the public and considered candidates put forth by our editorial team. To be considered, nominees must be 25 years of age or younger and work for a company based in Greater Philadelphia and/or reside in the region.
Honorees span a wide range of industries, including consumer goods, biotechnology and environmental solutions. Many are products of the region’s colleges and universities, though some studied farther afield before setting up shop locally.”
The distinction is an important one for the assistant professor at the Stuart Weitzman School of Design, for reasons both scientific and artistic. With a doctorate in biomedical engineering, several degrees in architecture, and a devotion to sustainable design, Mogas-Soldevila brings biology to everyday life, creating materials for a future built halfway between nature and artifice.
The architectural technology she describes is unassuming at first look: A freeze-dried pellet, small enough to get lost in your pocket. But this tiny lump of matter, the result of more than a year’s collaboration between designers, engineers and biologists, is a biomaterial that contains a “living-like” system.
When touched by water, the pellet activates and expresses a glowing protein, its fluorescence demonstrating that life and art can harmonize into a third and very different thing, as ready to please as to protect. Woven into lattices made of flexible natural materials promoting air and moisture flow, the pellets form striking interior design elements that could one day keep us healthy.
“We envision them as sensors,” explains Mogas-Soldevila. “They may detect pathogens, such as bacteria or viruses, or alert people to toxins inside their home. The pellets are designed to interact with air. With development, they could monitor or even clean it.”
For now, they glow, a triumphant first stop on the team’s roadmap to the future. The fluorescence establishes that the lab’s biomaterial manufacturing process is compatible with the leading-edge cell-free engineering that gives the pellets their life-like properties.
A rapidly expanding technology, cell-free protein expression systems allow researchers to manufacture proteins without the use of living cells.
Gabrielle Ho, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Bioengineering and co-leader of the project, explains how the team’s design work came to be cell-free, a technique rarely explored outside of lab study or medical applications.
“Typically, we’d use living E. coli cells to make a protein,” says Ho. “E. coli is a biological workhorse, accessible and very productive. We’d introduce DNA to the cell to encourage expression of specific proteins. But this traditional method was not an option for this project. You can’t have engineered E. coli hanging on your walls.”
Cell-free systems contain all the components a living cell requires to manufacture protein —energy, enzymes and amino acids — and not much else. These systems are therefore not alive. They do not replicate, and neither can they cause infection. They are “living-like,” designed to take in DNA and push out protein in ways that previously were only possible using living cells.
“One of the nicest things about these materials not being alive,” says Mogas-Soldevila, “is that we don’t need to worry about keeping them that way.”
Unlike living cells, cell-free materials don’t need a wet environment or constant monitoring in a lab. The team’s research has established a process for making these dry pellets that preserves bioactivity throughout manufacturing, storage and use.
Bioactive, expressive and programmable, this technology is designed to capitalize on the unique properties of organic materials.
Mogas-Soldevila, whose lab focuses exclusively on biodegradable architecture, understands the value of biomaterials as both environmentally responsible and aesthetically rich.
“Architects are coming to the realization that conventional materials — concrete, steel, glass, ceramic, etc. — are environmentally damaging and they are becoming more and more interested in alternatives to replace at least some of them. Because we use so much, even being able to replace a small percentage would result in a significant reduction in waste and pollution.”
Her lab’s signature materials — biopolymers made from shrimp shells, wood pulp, sand and soil, silk cocoons, and algae gums — lend qualities over and above their sustainable advantages.
“My obsession is diagnostic, but my passion is playfulness,” says Mogas-Soldevila. “Biomaterials are the only materials that can encapsulate this double function observed in nature.”
This multivalent approach benefited from the help of Penn Engineering’s George H. Stephenson Foundation Educational Laboratory & Bio-MakerSpace, and the support of its director, Sevile Mannickarottu. In addition to contributing essential equipment and research infrastructure to the team, Mannickarottu was instrumental in enabling the interdisciplinary relationships that led the team to success, introducing Ho to the DumoLab Research team collaborators. These include Mogas-Soldevila, Camila Irabien, a Penn Biology major who provided crucial contributions to experimental work, and Fulbright design fellow Vlasta Kubušová, who co-led the project during her time at Penn and who will continue fueling the project’s next steps.
Machines beeping and whirring in a rhythmic chorus, the droning hum of medical equipment, and the bustles of busy health care providers are the familiar sounds of an extended stay at a hospital. This cacophony can create a sense of urgency for medical professionals as they move about with focused determination, closely monitoring their patients, but for infants in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) this constant noise can be overwhelming and developmentally detrimental.
Enter Tifara Boyce, from New York City; Gabriela Cano, from Lawrenceville, New Jersey; Gabriella Daltoso, from Boise, Idaho; Sophie Ishiwari, from Chicago, and Caroline Magro, from Alexandria, Virginia, bioengineering graduates from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, who have created the Sonura Beanie. Their device filters out harmful noises for NICU infants while supporting cognitive and socioemotional development by allowing parents to send voice messages to their newborns.
The Sonura team members are recipients of the 2023 President’s Innovation Prize, which includes an award of $100,000 and an additional $50,000 living stipend per team member. The recent graduates will spend the year developing their product.
“The Penn engineers behind Sonura are determined to make a difference in the world,” says President Liz Magill. “They identified a substantial medical challenge that affects many parents and their newborn children. With the guidance of their mentors, they are taking key steps to address it and in doing so are improving the developmental prospects for children in the NICU. I am proud the University is able to support their important work.”
She was particularly struck by the noisiness of the environment and considered the neurodevelopmental outcomes that may arise following long-term exposure to the harsh sounds at a critical developmental stage for infants. This concern prompted Magro to consult her team about potential solutions.
“I was really eager to tackle this problem because it bears some personal significance to me,” says Cano, who works on the device’s mobile application. “My sister was a NICU baby who was two months premature, so, when Caroline and I started talking about the issues a disruptive environment could cause, it seemed like the pieces of a puzzle started to come together.”
Each year, Penn Engineering’s seniors present their Senior Design projects, a year-long effort that challenges them to test and develop solutions to real-world problems, to their individual departments. The top three projects from each department go on to compete in the annual Senior Design Competition, sponsored by the Engineering Alumni Society, which involves pitching projects to a panel of judges who evaluate their potential in the market.
We are proud that two of the four awards went to Penn Bioengineering teams!
This year’s panel included over forty judges, and each winning team received a $2,000 prize, generously sponsored by Penn Engineering alumnus Kerry Wisnosky.
Congratulations to all of the 2023 participants and winners!
Technology & Innovation Award
This award recognized the team whose project represents the highest and best use of technology and innovation to leverage engineering principles.
Winner: Team BAMBI Department: Bioengineering Team Members: Ria Dawar, Pallavi Jonnalagadda, Jessica Ling, Grace Qian Mentor: Erin Anderson Instructors: Erin Berlew, Sevile Mannickarottu, and David Meaney Abstract: BAMBI (Biointelligent Apnea Monitor for Bradycardia-Prone Infants) is a tripartite system that leverages machine learning and automated mechanical stimulation to detect and treat apnea of prematurity in the NICU.
Judges’ Choice Award
This award recognizes the group whose all-around presentation captures the best of the senior design program’s different facets: ideation, scope of project, team problem-solving, execution and presentation.
Winner: Team StablEyes Department: Bioengineering Team Members: Ella Atsavapranee, Jake Becker, Ruoming Fan, Savan Patel Mentor: Erin Anderson, Dr. Drew Scoles and Dr. Tomas Aleman (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Penn Medicine) Instructors: Erin Berlew, Sevile Mannickarottu, and David Meaney Abstract: StablEyes consists of a stabilization mount that provides fine, motorized control of the handheld OCT to improve ease of use for physicians and machine learning-based software to aid in diagnosis from retinal images.
Technical.ly Philly journalist Sarah Huffman recently paid another visit to Penn Bioengineering’s George H. Stephenson Foundation Educational Laboratory & Bio-MakerSpace, this time for the 2023 Senior Design Expo. Following the annual Senior Design presentations held in the Singh Center for Nanotechnology, in which graduating fourth-year undergraduates in Bioengineering presented their final capstone projects, the Expo offered an opportunity for the teams to do live demonstrations (or demos) for the department’s internal competition judges and the wider BE community.
“In the course of the day, students presented the challenge they were aiming to solve and the technical details of their solution. After, demonstrations sought to find if the devices really worked.
‘[It’s] looking at the device as a whole, because quite frankly, you can say whatever you want at a presentation, does it really work,’ said [BE Labs Director Sevile] Mannickarottu. ‘You can make it look pretty, “but does it work?” is the big question.'”
University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill announced on April 21, the recipients of the 2023 President’s Engagement and Innovation Prizes.
Awarded annually, the Prizes empower Penn students to design and undertake post-graduation projects that make a positive, lasting difference in the world. Each Prize-winning project will receive $100,000, as well as a $50,000 living stipend per team member. The Prizes are the largest of their kind in higher education. All Prize recipients collaborate with a Penn faculty mentor.
A team of fourth-year Bioengineering majors, Gabriella Daltoso, Sophie Ishiwari, Gabriela Cano, Caroline Amanda Magro, and Tifara Eliana Boyce, have received the President’s Innovation Prize for their project, Sonura.
“This year’s President’s Engagement and Innovation Prize recipients are fueled by a desire to make a difference—in their community, across the country, and around the world,” Magill said. “Communities for Childbirth, Act First, and Sonura embody an inspiring blend of passion and purpose. They are addressing consequential challenges with compelling solutions, and their dedication and smarts are exemplary. I congratulate them and wish them success as they launch and grow their ventures.”
The 2023 Prize recipients—selected from an applicant pool of 76—will spend the next year implementing the projects:
Gabriella Daltoso, Sophie Ishiwari, Gabriela Cano, Caroline Amanda Magro, and Tifara Eliana Boyce for Sonura: Daltoso, from Boise, Idaho; Ishiwari, from Chicago; Cano, from Lawrenceville, New Jersey; Magro, from Alexandria, Virginia; and Boyce, from Jamaica, Queens, New York, are bioengineering majors in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Their startup, Sonura, is developing a beanie that promotes the cognitive and socioemotional development of newborns in the NICU by protecting them from the auditory hazards of their environments while fostering parental connection. The Sonura Beanie is composed of a frequency-dependent filter and a mobile application. The Sonura team is mentored by Brian Halak, a lecturer in the Engineering Entrepreneurship program. Sonura was developed in Penn’s Stephenson Foundation Bio-MakerSpace and was part of their Bioengineering Senior Design class.
To learn more about the 2023 President’s Engagement and Innovation Prizes, visit Penn Today.
Congratulations to the Bioengineering student recipients of undergraduate awards from the School of Engineering and Applied Science for the 2022-2023 academic year. These awards are given annually by the school and the department in recognition of outstanding scholarship and service. Read the full list of Bioengineering undergraduate award winners below.
The Wolf-Hallac Award: Sofia Mouchtaris. This award was established in October 2000 to recognize the graduating female senior from across Penn Engineering’s departments who is seen as a role model, has achieved a high GPA (in the top 10% of their class), and who has demonstrated a commitment to school and/or community.
The Management and Technology Scholarship Award: Savan Patel. This prize is awarded by the SEAS faculty to that member of the senior class in the Jerome Fisher Management and Technology Program who has created an innovative system and attained high scholastic achievement.
The Hugo Otto Wolf Memorial Prize: Joshua Freedman & Le He. This prize is awarded to one or more members of each department’s senior class, distinguishing students who meet with great approval of the professors at large through “thoroughness and originality” in their work.
The Herman P. Schwan Award: Laila Norford. This department award honors a graduating senior who demonstrates the “highest standards of scholarship and academic achievement.”
Exceptional Service Awards recognize students for their outstanding service to the University and their larger communities: Dylan Hurok, Julia Lottman, Caroline Magro & Grace Qian.
The Student Leadership Award: Moses Zeidan. This award is given annually to a student in Bioengineering who has demonstrated, through a combination of academic performance, service, leadership, and personal qualities, that they will be a credit to the Department, the School, and the University.
Additionally, the Bioengineering Department also presents a single lab group with the Albert Giandomenico Award which reflects their “teamwork, leadership, creativity, and knowledge applied to discovery-based learning in the laboratory.” This year’s group consists of Ella Atsavapranee, Jake Becker, Ruoming Fan & Savan Patel, aka Team StablEyes.
The awardees above were recognized at the annual Penn Engineering Awards Ceremony held Wednesday, March 29, 2023 in the Harrison Auditorium, Penn Museum.
Three Bioengineering Senior Design teams were chosen for recognition in the Bioengineering Senior Design Competition:
Team BAMBI: Ria Dawar, Pallavi Jonnalagadda, Jessica Ling, & Grace Qian. BAMBI (Biointelligent Apnea Monitor for Bradycardia-Prone Infants) is a tripartite system that leverages machine learning and automated mechanical stimulation to detect and treat apnea of prematurity in the NICU.
Team StablEyes: Ella Atsavapranee, Jake Becker, Ruoming Fan, & Savan Patel. StablEyes consists of a stabilization mount that provides fine, motorized control of the handheld OCT to improve ease of use for physicians and machine learning-based software to aid in diagnosis from retinal images.
Team inSPIRE: Jackson Dooley, Joshua Freedman,Yi-An Hsieh,Isabella Mirro, & Parth Mody.inSPIRE is the first smart incentive spirometer, used post-operatively to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs associated with complications and readmissions.
These teams will compete in the Penn Engineering Senior Design Competition on Friday, April 28, 2023.
“’The students all come here and they hang out and they build stuff,’ said David Issadore, associate professor of bioengineering and electrical and systems engineering. ‘This junior-level course is kind of an entry point for their senior design. So next year, all these students are going to take on new projects, and then they all kind of hang around here and they build incredible stuff.’”
The profile of the BE Labs is part of Technical.ly’s 2023 Universities Month, a series focusing on the latest trends and tech in higher education.
Fourth year undergraduate Jerry Gao (BE ’23) is the latest student featured in 34th Street Magazine’s “Ego of the Week” series. Jerry, who hails from Coppell, TX, majors in Bioengineering with a minor in Asian American Studies. In addition to his academic studies, he is passionate about education and literacy, working with The Signal, the Asian Pacific American Leadership Initiative, and the Penn Reading Initiative. In this Q&A, he discusses the sense of community that brought him to Penn, the love of cooking (and gifting food to his friends) that powers his @gaos_chows Instagram account, and his experience as a student and now TA in Penn Bioengineering’s “BE MAD” lab class:
“Now that you’re on your way to graduating, what have been your favorite classes or experiences in Bioengineering or Asian American Studies?
‘In terms of bioengineering, there’s definitely a clear favorite that I have. It’s actually the class I’m a TA for right now. It’s “Bioengineering Modeling, Analysis, and Design,” and it’s basically the lab that all junior bioengineers take. There’s one particular lab we do in the class that always catches everyone’s attention; it’s called the cockroach lab. I think it’s one of the biggest reasons why people want to study bioengineering at Penn in particular.
It’s a segue into prosthetics and different medical devices that can help restore people’s limb functions. We order hundreds of cockroaches and then we put them in a little bit of an ice bath to anesthetize. We amputate their legs, which will essentially serve as our prosthetics, and then implant metal electrodes into two different spots of the leg. Then, we go into our computer program and type different lines of code that can help replicate different signal waves to move the legs. If you submit a wave with a particular frequency and particular amplitude, it’ll cause a leg to move in one direction, and if you do a different combination of the amplitude and frequency, it’ll cause it to move in the other direction. The next task is to trace the end of the leg and try to choreograph the leg to spell the letters B and E for bioengineering. It’s so fun to be able to see what combination of leg movements in the servo motor can form the backbone of the B for example, what can form the three lines of the E. I would say that’s probably my favorite moment in the bioengineering department.'”