To finish the second half of Bioengineering Modeling, Analysis, and Design (BE MAD) Laboratory – the hallmark laboratory course of Penn’s Bioengineering program – instructors Dr. Brian Chow and Dr. David Issadore tasked junior undergraduate students with creating their own spectrophotometers for potential use in detecting water-borne pathogens in a design process that involved rapid prototyping techniques, the use of low-cost optoelectronics, and the incorporation of automation software and a graphical user interface for data acquisition. The final projects were assessed for both the creativity of the structural design of the device, and their abilities to measure optical properties of fluorescein, a chromophore used in clinical diagnostics, to determine each device’s accuracy, sensitivity, precision, and dynamic range.
For the final project of the year, many groups planned adventurous structural innovations to house their spectrophotometer circuits. Some of this year’s highlights included a fish tank complete with flashing lights and goldfish, a motorized arm that could successfully shoot a ball into a miniature basketball hoop with every spectrophotometer reading, a guitar with the ability to actually play music, and a working carousel. “My group decided to make a version of the Easy Bake Oven, using an LED oven light bulb, and a motor to open the door,” said junior Alina Rashid. “Of course, it didn’t actually cook anything because of the spectrophotometer inside, but maybe next time!” All of these designs involved the use of CAD-modeling to create sketches and parts that could then be laser-cut or 3D-printed into physical structures. The Department of Bioengineering also allotted each group with a budget for students to purchase any additional parts they required for their designs that were not already available in the lab.
On Demo Day for the spectrophotometer projects, instructors, lab staff, and friends came to the Stephenson Foundation Bioengineering Educational Laboratory and Bio-MakerSpace to assess final designs and celebrate the end of the semester. Given three solutions of unknown concentrations, students used their completed spectrophotometers to create standard curves using Beer-Lambert’s Law and attempt to determine the concentrations of the provided solutions. “I always love Demo Day because that’s when all separate aspects of the project – the mechanical design, the code, the circuitry – come together to make a device that actually works the way we planned and wanted it to all along,” said junior Jessica Dubuque. After nearly a month of working on the projects, each lab group went into Demo Day with designs they were proud of, and ended the semester on a high note with many new insights and lab skills under their belt for the beginning of their Senior Design projects in the fall.
At the end of April, the graduating seniors in the Penn Department of Bioengineering‘s B.S.E. (Bachelor of Science in Engineering) program presented their Senior Design projects. Developed over the course of their final two semesters in the undergraduate program, these projects are developed in teams of three or four as the students are guided through choosing and understanding an impactful biomedical problem, defining the characteristics of a successful design solution to eliminate or mitigate a problem or fulfill a need, identifying constraints, and creatively developing potential design solutions. Over the course of two days, the students then present their projects to faculty and students from across the Penn Engineering community.
Congrats to all of our graduating students on their innovative projects. Check out some photos from the 2019 BE Senior Design presentations and read the full list of this year’s abstracts below.
Group A: BreatheSmart
Caroline Atkinson, Sarah Cai, Rebecca Kellner, Harrison Troché
In the United States, more than 51 million people have been diagnosed with either asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) as of 2016. These conditions result in swelling of the airways, making it difficult to breathe, but the symptoms are commonly managed through the use of a pressurized metered dose inhaler (pMDI), which dispenses aerosolized medication to the lungs, and are currently used by 78% of asthma patients in the US. However, a recent study showed up to 90% of pMDI users incorrectly use their inhalers, reducing the efficacy of medication . Our solution guides patients through the proper technique for using inhalers while providing real-time feedback so patients can correct their technique. This was accomplished by tracking flow rate data converted from a pressure sensor and a smartphone app that provides real-time visual feedback to the user. We were successful in our four design goals as the final device is: (1) lightweight and compact (78 grams with inhaler and 2.5”x1.5”x3.5”), (2) accurate in flow rate measurements (±8.7% error), (3) easy-to-use, with 95% of users surveyed able to use the app successfully without assistance (n=20), and (4) low cost, with the total cost being $76. To improve the design, we will improve accuracy and compactness, and reduce cost. Some ways this could be achieved are through the use of a smaller, custom microcontroller, and a more sensitive pressure sensor. Next steps would include a clinical trial to demonstrate the effectiveness of our device.
Group B: RIPT
Toren Arginteanu, Anna Mujica, Justin Mills, Kayla Prezelski
The tourniquet is the gold standard for treating traumatic extremity bleeding in pre-hospital emergency scenarios. Existing pneumatic tourniquets are safer than non-pneumatic alternatives, minimizing nerve damage and loss of limb function. However, current emergency pneumatic tourniquets are costly and delicate and prone to leaking, punture, and abrasion. Therefore, there is need for an emergency pneumatic tourniquet that is low-cost, highly durable, and easily applied by laypeople. Our design, the Rapidly Inflating Pneumatic Tourniquet (RIPT), consists of an internal bladder made of tough rubber, a durable outer covering made of ballistic nylon, and a pneumatic inflation mechanism involving an inflator valve, pressurized CO 2 cartridge, and pressure relief and regulator valves that maintain a safe and sufficient internal pressure of 250 mmHg. RIPT is tightened around the injured limb and secured with a spring-loaded, automatically locking PLA and aluminum clasp. RIPT’s average application time was 20 ± 0.4 s, which is significantly shorter than that of the Combat Application Tourniquet (CAT): 32 ± 2.9 s. RIPT’s internal bladder pressure reached 250 ± 4.8 mmHg. RIPT packs up to 87.5 in 3 and weighs 18.8 oz. RIPT has comparable circumferential pressure distribution to CAT and superior axial pressure gradient. RIPT’s raw material cost is $65.62. In the future, the clasp mechanism will be modified to improve ease-of-use and minimize size and weight. RIPT will be tested with trauma surgeons at Penn Presbyterian Hospital, and user feedback will indicate ease-of-use and pain of application relative to the CAT.
Group C: Proscopy
Abigail Anmuth, John Forde, Sarah Raizen, Rohit Shinde
Robotically-assisted surgery is a rapidly evolving technology that is expanding the capabilities of surgeons and improving patient outcomes in fields ranging from cardiothoracic surgery to urology. However, as this technology becomes more widely used, there are distinct limitations that impact the safety of surgical maneuvers, largely because of the lack of haptic feedback in the robotic arms of these surgical systems. In the case of prostatectomies, this can lead to the unintentional penetration of the rectal wall and cause pervasive infection, a condition known as rectal injury (RI). Proscopy is a novel real-time proximity sensor that monitors the distance between robotic surgical tools and a patient’s rectal wall to reduce the incidence of RI. This two-part preventative solution consists of a Hall Effect sensor-embedded brace at the tip of the surgical arm and a magnetized flexible insert. The Hall Effect sensors convert magnetic field strength to distance from the rectal wall. In lieu of haptic feedback, Proscopy provides visual feedback within the robot control console as the surgical robot arm nears the rectal wall, displaying information that cannot be perceived from the laparoscopic camera itself. Proscopy gives surgeons the ability to detect the rectal wall with a precision of 0.1±.05mm, rendering it a highly effective and streamlined mechanism for RI prevention during robotically-assisted prostatectomies.
Group D: CerviAid
Dana Abulez, Dayo Adetu, Lamis Elsawah, Yueqi Ren
Cervical insufficiency is premature dilation of the cervix in pregnant women without active labor, and if not addressed, can lead to the loss of pregnancy in the second trimester. This condition results in a protrusion of the amniotic sac out of the uterus and into the cervix, which must be pushed back to extend the pregnancy. In the cervical cerclage procedure, the only treatment for this condition, the cervix is sutured shut to prolong pregnancy. If the cerclage is completed after 14 weeks of pregnancy or if the cervix is more than 3 cm dilated, the procedure is termed an emergency cerclage, which has a higher rate of pregnancy loss due to amniotic sac puncture than regular cerclage procedures. Cerclage procedures are dependent on surgeon experience and utilize no standard method to push back the amniotic sac, which makes this procedure even more high risk. To combat this issue, CerviAid is a device that aims to increase the success rate of emergency cerclages, for which no standardized method exists. The device pushes up the amniotic sac gently with a silicone head and can accommodate a variety of cervix diameters found in patients. The head of the device is controlled by a rack and pinion with a locking mechanism to secure the device and firmly support the sac while the surgeon places the suture. Evaluations of CerviAid with a realistic model of the cervix and amniotic sac produced a 96.15% success rate, in which no membranes were ruptured after pushing through a model cervix. Future steps include further stakeholder evaluations and decreasing manufacturing costs.
Risk of surgical fire increases with use of surgical energy like electrocautery, which presents a source of ignition in an operating room setting with elevated percent oxygen saturation in the air and abundant flammable materials. To address this problem, the FDA recommends human factors strategies, such as heightening awareness, and training on use of surgical energy, which is available yet not standardized across the field. ArcAlert offers a real-time risk management solution for data-driven prevention of surgical fires during use of da Vinci robot electrocautery. The system includes an oxygen sensor device that detects percent oxygen saturation at the surgical field, a machine vision algorithm that detects electrical arcing, and a user-friendly web application. ArcAlert consolidates and assesses risk factor information so that if the oxygen sensor device’s reading exceeds a dangerous threshold or the machine vision algorithm detects arcing, an alert appears on the web application describing the risk, which facilitates improvements to equipment usage by operating room personnel. The oxygen sensor device acquires reliable readings over the timespan of a procedure with an accuracy within +/- 1% for 97% of readings. The machine vision algorithm detects approximately 80% of arcing incidences with only 20% falsely labeled, achieves spatial localization on the order of under 1 centimeter, and executes full pipeline implementation in under half a second. The current design is indicated for transoral surgeries, so future generations will diversify the types of procedures with which the system is compatible, in addition to going fully wireless.
Group F: Grip Glove
Kathryn Khaw, Matthew Rosenwasser, Vidula Kopli
Soft robotics offers many advantages over traditional robotics as an assistive and rehabilitative technology due to its cost-effectiveness and ability to mimic physiological movements. Because of the importance of grip on a patient’s quality of life, we leveraged soft robotic technology to create a flexible, exoskeleton glove for both therapy and assisting daily living for patients with hand impairments. Our device targets muscular dystrophy patients because these patients have a limited selection of devices for their needs. Our design consists of soft robotic actuators attached to a glove that mimic finger movement by bending upon inflation and surface electromyography (SEMG) sensors on the arm to predict the user’s intention to grip or release. Our device effectively recapitulates the forces generated during the grip of a healthy individual using three soft robotic actuators, with each actuator generating 2.83 ± 0.44 N (n = 6). The actuation frequency is 0.2 Hz (12 grips/minute) due to delays in deflation. The EMG sensors, MyoWare and OYMotion Analog EMG Sensor, were not sensitive enough to pick up graded changes in muscle activity, meaning we could only replicate an on-off response through a thresholded spike detection of processed EMG signals in two muscle groups that corresponded to grip and release. Going forward, we will use more sensitive EMG sensors, such as the Biosignalsplux Electromyography Muscle Sensor, increase actuation frequency by actively deflating actuators and include a pressure – solenoid feedback system to have controllable grips.
Group G: SpotOn
Julian Mark, Chase Rapine, Jared Rifkin
In this paper, we discuss SpotOn: a novel bioengineering solution to improving anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear recovery. ACL tears are very prevalent injuries and typically take 6-9 months to heal . Physical therapy during recovery is costly and time-intensive, and current knee braces for patients do not provide active support to protect the patient. With SpotOn’s dual-faceted smart mirror and dynamic knee brace technology, patients can begin strengthening the ligament and joint sooner after surgery with less risk of re-injury. When the patient exercises with SpotOn, the smart mirror provides feedback on the patient’s exercise form. If the mirror detects an error, it notifies the user and sends a signal to activate the knee brace and straighten the user’s knee. Key specifications for success include latency of knee brace activation, maximum supported load by the brace, and total cost. Latency and cost met specification goals with a delay less than 0.1s (target under 3s) and total cost of $343.25 (target under $600), but maximum torque output of 18.26ft-lbs was short of the 101.25ft-lbs load goal. Future directions for our design include tracking additional metrics besides squat form, increasing maximum torque output of the knee brace, and lastly adding an on-board battery to the brace to improve portability. Our product was not tested clinically, so the next step to implement our solution would be to reach out to clinicians who are treating injured patients and move forward with gathering clinical data.
Group H: TBx
Daphne Cheung, Gabriel Koo, Shelly Teng, Ethan Zhao
Caused by bacterial strain Mycobacterium tuberculosis, tuberculosis (TB) remains one of the world’s deadliest diseases, with over 10 million new cases and 1.3 million deaths in 2017. Currently, the gold standard for TB diagnosis is to sequence a patient sputum sample using a PCR machine called the GeneXpert. Although this method demonstrates high sensitivity and specificity, it is not ideal in low-income developing countries because it is too expensive and inaccessible, priced at $32,000 for equipment, and $17/test. Thus, diagnosis is most widely determined through smear microscopy. However, this method shows low sensitivity and specificity at only 60% and 81%, respectively. Our solution is TBx, a urine-based diagnostic protocol that offers greater diagnostic power than smear microscopy, while maintaining affordability at only a fraction of the price of the GeneXpert. TBx detects the presence of lipoarabinomannan (LAM) in urine, a glycolipid that is specific to active TB cases. Under TBx protocol, LAM is tagged using photoacoustic dye (IR Dye 800CW) and immunoprecipitation beads via anti-LAM antibodies. Samples are then spun down using a centrifuge to wash out excess dye, concentrated by resuspension in only 5mL 1x PBS, and imaged in a 96-well plate. The photoacoustic dye thermally expands and produces photoacoustic signal in response to photoexcitation at λ = 800nm. Compared to smear microscopy, TBx has higher sensitivity (67%, n = 31) and specificity (92%, n = 31). TBx also only costs $1,500 in equipment, and around $12/test. With further refinements to the TBx protocol and point-of-care packaging, TBx shows promise in developing countries to improve the TB diagnosis landscape, especially with its combination of increased sensitivity and specificity, as well as affordability.
Group I: Sensei “The Cast Master”
Carolina Ferrari, Kristen Ho, Blake Thomas, Alfredo Tovar
Acute compartment syndrome (ACS) occurs in 26,500 people in the US each year and is a result of capillary blood flow becoming compromised when tissue pressure exceeds 30 mmHg. The consequences of ACS are extremely severe if it is not immediately diagnosed. ACS can result in permanent muscle damage, nerve damage and/or amputation, and 70% of cases can be traced back to fractures. The current diagnostic method requires invasive pressure measurements if a patient’s primary symptom assessment is inconclusive. Thus, we have designed SENSEI, a non-invasive device that constantly monitors pressure and can diagnose ACS underneath a cast post-fracture. The device interacts with an Android application via bluetooth to let the user know if they are at risk in real time. SENSEI currently measures compartmental pressure of the forearm within a range of 20-40 mmHg with 91% accuracy. In the future, we plan on improving our pressure sensors so that SENSEI can diagnose ACS with 100% confidence. Other potential additions to SENSEI include designing a sleeve for the lower leg and developing an iOS application to capture more market share.
Group J: UrineLuck: Artificial Urinary Sphincter
Jason Grosz, Richard Adamovich-Zeitlin, Teddy Wang, Sally Pennacchi
Urinary incontinence (UI) is a debilitating ailment that impacts the lives of millions of men. Caused by urinary sphincter damage, prostate issues, or overactive bladder muscles, UI can render men homebound and ruin their social and professional lives. The current gold standard intervention for severe UI is the AMS 800, which consists of a pressure regulated cuff surrounding the urethra and a manual pump in the scrotum. The AMS 800 requires an invasive surgery for implantation and is extremely expensive – around $37,000 for the device, surgery, and hospital stay. It also suffers from a high failure rate, around 33% within three years, due to infections, mechanical failures, and tissue atrophy from the cuff blocking perfusion. In this paper, we fabricate and validate a silicone endourethral valve to treat UI in a less expensive, less invasive, and user-friendly way. These valves are inserted into the penile urethra and mimic the mechanics of bite valves commonly found in water bottles, whereby force applied perpendicularly to a slit enables flow. They are cheap, around $0.08 per device in material costs, do not occlude blood perfusion, and can be inserted at home or in an outpatient clinic with a catheter. Through validation in a PDMS model that recapitulates penile mechanics and geometry, we demonstrated that these valves enable strong flow, 4.99 mL/s, minimal leakage, 0.43 drops, and resistance to cyclic stress. With further cytotoxicity and biofilm testing and insertion protocol development, we hope that this design can improve quality-of-life and prognoses for incontinent men.
Group K: Automated Pathology
Olivia Lang, Joseph Maggiore, Prithvi Pendekanti, Olivia Teter
Clinical and laboratory staining protocols are typically an inefficient use of money, resources and manhours. The highly repetitive and standardized nature of this work poses an opportunity for automation. An automated system would allow a physician or clinician the ability to dedicate their time elsewhere, use less staining fluid, and potentially save on thousands of dollars when compared to similar alternatives. Hemauto is an automated diagnostic device as a proof of concept for a lowcost instrument that combines staining, image acquisition, and image analysis capabilities. Hemauto’s first use case is the detection of Malaria. Malaria, despite being highly treatable, is currently an epidemic in African lowresource regions, disproportionately affecting children. The high incidence rate can be attributed to a lack of standardized and effective earlydetection methods. Providing a lowcost, highthroughput device capable of giving a quantitative diagnosis with limited userinput is critical for these regions because current detection methods are either too hightech, not accurate enough, or are too expensive to be administered frequently. Hemauto’s solution synchronizes the actions of motors and computer technology to deliver a diagnosis. It uses two axes of motion controlled by independent stepper motors to follow the standard Giemsa staining protocol. The stained slide is then automatically focused and imaged in front of a 100x objective lens, where the captured images are analyzed to provide a quantified diagnosis. This proof of concept offers incredible promise for future automated pathology devices across many disease areas.
Group L: Preventear
Matt Riley, Jasmine Wang, Mary Zhuo Ke
Adolescent female athletes are at a high risk of Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) tears as a result of improper form and training techniques. ACL tear prevention training programs are designed to reduce one’s future risk of a tear, but these programs are expensive and not available everywhere. PREVENTEAR is our proposed solution. PREVENTEAR is a self-guided jump training system involving a wearable sock and companion mobile app that like a personal trainer, provides instantaneous feedback on your technique, but is inexpensive and portable. The three main parameters important to jump training are knee angle, knee-to-knee distance, and foot landing technique. The ideal form is to have a knee angle between 30 and 90 degrees with respect to the vertical, have a knee-to-knee distance of greater than 60% with respect to hip width, and land on the ball of the foot before the heel. PREVENTEAR uses bluetooth to communicate with the sensors woven into the sock to a phone app and aims to give feedback on the quality of an athlete’s jump as accurately as ACL tear prevention training programs like Sportsmetrics. The app-reported feedback was compared to true values measured by an observer, phone application, and measuring tools to evaluate performance. PREVENTEAR overall provides a means for ACL tear prevention training by being portable and low cost in comparison to Sportsmetrics, and flexible for adolescent female athletes of varying sizes. PREVENTEAR hopes to further improve accuracy and expand to other forms of training important in reducing risk of ACL injury such as strength, flexibility, and plyometric training in the future.
Group M: Autonomous Home Urinalysis
Saumeel Desai, Anand Prabhu, Eshwar Inapuri
Urinalysis is a crucial diagnostic component of managing heart failure, kidney failure, pre-eclampsia and several other medical conditions. Urinalysis currently requires patient willingness, effort, time and money as patients must travel to a lab, wait for results and rely on caregiver support in order to comply with required follow-ups. Current at-home alternatives, such as dipsticks, lack proper controls and cannot reliably be used by physicians to guide therapy. Moreover, patients are opposed to handling urine, leading to low adherence rates. The goal of this design project was to create an autonomous home urinalysis device that greatly reduces the barriers to diagnostic data collection, enabling detection of deterioration and guidance of therapy with higher efficiency. To meet this goal, the proposed design needed to be affordable, fit on top of a toilet tank, take three or fewer simple steps to use and be capable of rapidly and quantitatively measuring urine volume as well as creatinine, sodium, glucose and albumin concentrations in published clinical reference ranges with a coefficient of variance less than 5%. The solution developed can perform urinalysis within two minutes with only three user steps and is quantitative, controlling assay conditions such as light, volume and time. Each of the initial design requirements have been met, but there is still room for improvement in reducing variation, improving usability and design for manufacturing. This work is a successful starting point upon which future iterations can build to successfully meet patient and provider needs in the urinalysis space.
Group N: BubbleBed
Eden Harris, Candace Jasper, Faith Taliaferro, Sandy Tang
Each year, the U.S. healthcare system spends over $11 billion towards the treatment of pressure ulcer. While pressure ulcers commonly occur in long-term care facilities, they are also prevalent in hospitals, with 700,000 patients admitted to U.S. acute care hospitals developing pressure ulcers each year . The current Braden diagnostic questionnaire assesses risk of ulcers development but fails quantify their locations without nurses having to inspect and rotate patients every two hours. Expensive sensing mats exist, but they offer no pressure relief, and smart-feedback beds offer no information about patient bodily pressure. Thus, we combine pressure sensing capabilities with smart feedback technology . We have developed Bubblebed: a mattress-like device capable of visualizing the user’s bodily pressure as well as responding to areas in need of pressure alleviation, as a means of preventing pressure ulcer development. This device increases or decreases pressure in a specified air cushion (or air cell) based on pressure readings received every ten minutes, actuating until all air cells are restored to safe values, the latter of which was drawn from empirical studies . Our final prototype consists of four air cells controlled by an Arduino algorithm that reads in pressure values within the air cell and opens the corresponding valve to either inflate or deflate a given cell. This prototype serves as a proof-of-concept, demonstrating the efficacy of our pressure-sensing feedback loop and workflow. Future clinical applications would necessitate expanding this to a full hospital bed-size mattress overlay with an associated monitor to visualize pressure ulcer risk.
They are among 496 recipients chosen this year from across the United States from out of more than 5,000 applicants. To date, 43 Penn students have received the award since Congress established the foundation in 1986 to honor the work of U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater.
In a record year for the BE graduate program, twelve current and future students from the Department of Bioengineering were selected for the 2019 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). In addition, four more students were selected for honorable mention. This prestigious program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported fields. BE is thrilled to congratulate our excellent students on these well-deserved accolades! Continue reading below for a list of winning students and descriptions of their research.
Further information about the program can be found on the NSF website.
2019 NSF GRFP Recipients:
Tala Azar is a PhD student in the Liu lab. During pregnancy and lactation, the maternal skeleton mobilizes to provide calcium for the developing fetus and breastfeeding, respectively. Tala’s current work seeks to isolate individual effects of pregnancy and lactation on the biology and structure of maternal bone in a rat and mouse model, which is important for understanding the mechanisms behind postmenopausal osteoporosis development.
Shuting (Sarah) Cai is a current Bioengineering senior (BSE ’19). She previously worked in Dr. Lloyd Miller’s Dermatology and Immunology Lab at Hopkins during the summer of her freshman year, and she has since been working in Dr. Andrew Tsourkas’s lab here at Penn on various projects involving development of nanoparticles for multimodal imaging and cancer theranostics.
Brandon Hayes is a PhD student in the Discher lab. He is currently working on manipulating the macrophage immune checkpoint to exploit the mechanisms of phagocytosis for immunoengineering. The goal of this manipulation is to develop a new cell therapy and engineer new gene therapy and protein delivery approaches to target both immune cells and tumors.
Travis Kotzur is a PhD student in the Winkelstein lab. His project revolves around better understanding the mechanisms of neuronally transduced pain from an injury within his lab’s models of the spine and the ligaments within.
Victoria Muir is a PhD student in the Burdick lab. She is studying injectable hyaluronic acid hydrogels for musculoskeletal tissue regeneration and repair.
Margaret Schroeder graduated with a BSE in 2018 and is currently completing her MSE, both in BE. She works in the Meaney lab. She studies astrocytic modulation of mesoscale neural populations in vitro, in the context of traumatic brain injury. She images the calcium activity of neurons and astrocytes to examine how astrocytes affect population response to single-cell mechanical injury.
Olivia Teter is a current Bioengineering senior (BSE ’19). She works in the Meaney lab which focuses on traumatic brain injury. Olivia’s work has been dedicated to understanding how injury propagates in neuronal networks. She uses a combination of in vitro experiments and computational analyzes to identify and evaluate possible mechanisms describing how the neuronal network changes after injury.
Tanniel Winner graduated with her BSE from Penn BE in the fall of 2015 and is now a PhD candidate in the Neuromechanics Lab at Georgia Tech and Emory University. She is working on machine learning models to classify and predict gait cycle states.
Princess Aghayere, Summer Kollie, and Oladunni Alomaja met for the first time before they even started college, at Penn’s Pre-Freshman Program. Drawn together by their common ties to West Africa, they became fast friends and, eventually, roommates. Kollie is originally from Liberia, and Aghayere and Alomaja were born in Nigeria.
Although all three moved to the United States as children or teenagers, each felt compelled to give back to Africa. As winners of one of the 2019 President’s Engagement Prizes (PEP), they will.
Their project, Rebound Liberia, aims to give young women a platform to develop their voices and, ultimately, to position them to create a new, more positive narrative about the country. It involves building a basketball court in Monrovia, the capital, and pairing it with literacy programs and a resource center.
The initial goal is to serve about 60 girls between the ages of 8 and 18, to complement what the young women are learning in school, and to build on those skills during the summer break. The PEP gives their project a $100,000 award, as well as a $50,000 living stiped for each of them.
All three women said the ability to begin their post-Penn lives giving back is hugely significant.
“We have always had that passion, that drive to want to work with youth in West Africa, to give back and just kind of help the youth in the way we have been helped along the way of our journey,” Kollie says.
“In Africa, West Africa especially, it’s very patriarchal,” says Alomaja, who goes by the nickname Ola. “We’re giving girls a voice. We’re empowering them, teaching them leadership skills. And we’re teaching them so many things that their society might have taken away from them or has not given them the opportunity to learn.
“For me, being involved in this project means I will be able to see that through and to have a close, interactive relationship with these girls for a long time, to help reach their own goals. I want to help them realize they’re more than what their society tells them they can be.”
Aghayere, a standout forward on Penn’s women’s basketball team, began playing basketball not long after she and her family moved to Virginia when she was 8. She’s driven by research showing the power of sports to teach leadership, and she can’t wait to expand the sport’s reach in Liberia.
“Basketball is definitely on the rise in Liberia. If we can build this program to a world-class program and really sort of help redefine Liberia in a new way, it will help. We’ve talked a lot about the negative narratives about Liberia,” Aghayere says. “We want to see this not only be self-sustainable but be something that people from all across West Africa come to and know Liberia for.”
Kollie and Aghayere also put together weekly workshops for the girls, discussing everything from sexual and reproductive health to goal-setting. They took the girls to Monrovia’s Coca-Cola plant and the nation’s Senate, two places where women are scarce.
After that success, the duo wanted to reach higher and began thinking about entering the annual contest for the PEP. Alomaja suggested adding in the literacy component to round out the program.
The trio approached Ocek Eke, the director of global and local-service learning programs in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. He knew all three women, since Alomaja is majoring in bioengineering and Kollie and Aghayere had worked on programs with him, and he agreed to be their faculty mentor for the project.
Bringing home a bad apple or two from the grocery store might not seem like a huge deal to the average consumer. But for producers and sellers of fresh fruits and vegetables, the staggering 40% of food that goes bad before it even reaches a store means mounds of wasted food and nearly $1 trillion in lost profits.
Now, thanks to a 2019 President’s Innovation Prize (PIP) award, seniors Katherine Sizov of Alexandria, Virginia, and Malika Shukurova of Samarkand, Uzbekistan, plan to address the issue and optimize the produce supply chain. The prize will help them grow their novel biosensing technology startup company Strella Biotechnology.
Sizov, who is majoring in molecular biology, likes to ask everyone the same question when talking about Strella: “How old do you think an apple in a grocery store is?” As it turns out, an apple from a store may have been in storage anywhere from a couple months to up to more than a year. “That’s one fact that you don’t really consider when you go into a store because you’re so used to seeing fresh fruit,” she says.
The idea for Strella came to life when Sizov, who was previously doing undergraduate research on neurodegenerative disorders, found herself reading papers outside of her main area of study and chatting with Shukurova about what she learned about food waste. The two friends had met during freshmen year through the Penn Russian Club.
That 40% of all fresh produce going to waste is what motivated Sizov. “I thought it was the most ridiculous number in the world,” she says. “This clearly is a problem that could be solved, and, since ag is a bio space, I thought we could use the technical knowledge that we have to solve the problem.”
Shukurova, a bioengineering major, quickly became interested in seeking a solution with Sizov. “At that time I was becoming increasingly interested in the technical aspects [of the problem], and more focused towards building a solution by sensing,” she says. Their complementary areas of technical expertise, and two years of friendship, led to a collaboration.
They soon found a potential approach: Ripening fruits release ethylene gas, and the amount of the gas correlates with a fruit’s ripeness. The challenge, however, is that man-made compounds do not bind ethylene with much specificity, so it’s a difficult gas to measure.
Strella’s solution? “Hack the fruit,” says Sizov, explaining that fruits can already measure ethylene themselves. Placing a ripe banana next to an unripe banana, for example, causes the unripe fruit to ripen more quickly. “Why reinvent the wheel? Let’s use what a fruit uses to sense ethylene,” she says.
After Sizov “hacked” the fruit and had a potential biosensor in hand, Shukurova’s experience and technical knowledge in bioengineering gave her knowledge on both the electronic and biological aspects of the problem. Their patent-pending sensor is now a “leading ripeness indicator” that Strella can monitor on a constant basis.
But bringing their biosensor to market means overcoming technical and biological challenges, including biosensor stability and powering the electrical components that collect data. Sizov and Shukurova put together a team of people with complementary knowledge, including Zuyang Liu, an electrical engineering master’s student; Reggie Lamaute, an undergraduate studying chemistry and nanotechnology; and Jay Jordan, who has previous experience in sales and market development in agriculture.
Mentorship was also crucial for the success of their startup, with both naming Sevile Mannickarottu and their PIP mentor, Jeffrey Babin, as instrumental resources. Babin, who first met Sizov when she took his engineering entrepreneurship lab and who later served as her Wharton accelerator program advisor, says that Sizov was able to take skills she gained in the classroom and directly apply them in business scenarios. “She’s fearless in terms of picking up the phone and talking to strangers, gauging the market place, and taking on the tough issues in starting a company,” he says.
The Department of Bioengineering is proud to congratulate two of our graduating seniors on their 2019 President’s Engagement Prize and President’s Innovation Prize. Awarded annually, the Prizes empower students to design and undertake post-graduation projects that make a positive, lasting difference in the world. Each Prize-winning project will receive $1000,000, as well as $50,000 living stipend per team member.
BE senior Oladunni Alomaja (BSE 2019) and her partners Princess Aghayere and Summer Kollie won a President’s Engagement Prize for Rebound Liberia. Ola and her partners will use basketball as a tool to bridge the literacy gap between men and women and as a mechanism for youth to cope with the trauma and stress of daily life in post-conflict Liberia. Rebound Liberia will build an indoor basketball court in conjunction with a community resource center, and its annual three-month summer program will combine basketball clinics with daily reading and writing sessions and personal development workshops. The team is being mentored by Ocek Eke, director of global and local service-learning programs in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
BE senior Malika Shukurova (BSE 2019, also pursuing a MSE in BE) and her partner Katherine Sizov won a President’s Innovation Prize for Strella Biotechnology. Strella is developing a bio-sensor that can predict the maturity of virtually any fresh fruit. Strella’s sensors are installed in controlled atmosphere storage rooms, monitoring apples as they ripen. This enables packers and distributors to identify the ripest apples and fruit for their customers, thus minimizing spoilage and food waste and promoting sustainability. Strella’s current market is U.S apple packers and distributors, which represent a $4 billion produce industry. The startup is looking to expand to other markets, such as bananas and pears, in the future. Malika and Katherine are being mentored by Jeffrey Babin, Practice Professor and Associate Director of the Engineering Entrepreneurship Program. Katherine, a Biology major in the College of Arts and Sciences, developed the company as a sophomore in the George H. Stephenson Foundation Educational Laboratory, the primary teaching lab for the Department of Bioengineering.
Another winner of the President’s Innovation Prize, Wharton student Michael Wong for InstaHub, also has BE connections: One of the co-founders, Oladayo (Dayo) Adewole, graduated with a BSE in Bioengineering in 2015, went on to achieve his master’s in Robotics, and is currently back in BE pursuing his PhD. InstaHub’s mission is to eliminate energy waste through snap-on automation that enhances, rather than replaces, existing building infrastructure. Founded at Penn in 2016, InstaHub is focused on fighting climate change through energy conservation efforts with cleantech building automation technology. The initial development work for InstaHub was also done in the George H. Stephenson lab here in BE.
Congratulations once again to all the winners of this year’s President’s Engagement Prize and President’s Innovation Prize! Read more about the awards and all the winners at Penn Today and the Penn Engineering Medium Blog.
Each spring, the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania hosts an awards recognition dinner to honor exceptional work in the school: The Faculty honor students for outstanding service and academics, while the students choose faculty members for their commitment to teaching and advising. This year, the Department of Bioengineering won big with honors for both our Department Chair and our undergraduates. Read about each of the award winners and see photos from the awards ceremony below. Congratulations to all the winners!
Dr. David F. Meaney, Solomon R. Pollack Professor and Chair of Bioengineering, was awarded with the Ford Motor Company Award for Faculty Advising, which recognizes “dedication to helping students realize their educational, career and personal goals.” Dr. Meaney is beloved by the students in BE for his engaging teaching style, his commitment to student wellness and advancement, as well as his weekly Penn Bioengineering spin classes, and so we are delighted to see him recognized in this way by the wider student body Read more about the award here and Dr. Meaney here.
Eshwar Inapuri (BAS 2019), a graduating senior completing his Bachelor of Applied Science degree in BE with minors in Biophysics and Chemistry, was awarded the Ben and Bertha Gomberg Kirsch Prize. This competitive award is decided by the SEAS faculty from among the Engineering undergraduate body and distinguishes a member of the B.A.S. senior class in who “in applying the flexibility of the program, has created a personal academic experience involving the most creative use of the resources of the University.”
The Hugo Otto Wolf Memorial Prize, awarded to one or more members of each department’s senior class, distinguishes students who meet with great approval of the professors at large through “thoroughness and originality” in their work. This year, BE chose to share the award between Ethan Zhao (BSE 2019) and Shelly Teng (BSE 2019).
The Herman P. Schwan Award is decided by the Bioengineering Department and honors a graduating senior who demonstrates the “highest standards of scholarship and academic achievement.” The 2019 recipient of the Schwan Award is Joseph Maggiore (BSE 2019).
Every year, four BE students are recognized with Exceptional Service Awards for their outstanding service to the University and their larger communities. Our winners this year are Dana Abulez (BSE 2019), Daphne Cheung (BSE 2019), Lamis Elsawah (BSE 2019), and Kayla Prezelski (BSE 2019). All four of these recipients are also currently in the Accelerated Master’s program in BE.
And finally, BE also awards a single lab group (four students) 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 Caroline Atkinson (BSE 2019), Shuting (Sarah) Cai (BSE 2019), Rebecca Kellner (BSE 2019), and Harrison Troche (BSE 2019).
A full list of SEAS award descriptions and recipients can be found here.
Every undergraduate student pursuing a B.S.E. in Bioengineering participates in the Bioengineering Modeling, Analysis, and Design Laboratory I & II courses, in which students work together on a series of lab-based design challenges with an emphasis on model development and statistical analysis. Recently, junior undergraduates enrolled in this course taught by Dr. Brian Chow and Dr. David Issadore (both of whom recently received tenure) completed a project involving the use of electrocardiography (ECG) to innovate a non-invasive fatigue-monitoring device for astronauts that tend to fall asleep during long operations in space.
Using ECG lead wires and electrodes with a BioPac M-35 data collection apparatus, students collected raw data of their own heart and respiration rates, and loaded the data into MATLAB to analyze and calculate information like the heart rate itself, and portions of it like the QT-interval. “I think it was cool that we could measure signals from our own body and analyze it in a way that let us use it for a real-world application,” said junior Melanie Hillman about the project.
After taking these preliminary measurements, students used a combination of circuitry, MATLAB, and data acquisition boards to create both passive and active filters for the input signals. These filters helped separate the user’s breathing rate, which occurs at lower frequencies, from the heart rate, which occurs at higher frequencies, allowing for the data to be read and analyzed more easily. In their final design, most students used an active filter circuit chip that combined hardware with software to create bandpass filters of different frequency ranges for both input signals.
“It was nice to be able to do a lab that connected different aspects of engineering in the sense that we both electronically built circuits, and also modeled them theoretically, because normally there’s a separation between those two domains,” said junior Emily Johnson. On the final day of the project, Demo Day, groups displayed their designs ability to take one input from the ECG cables connected to a user, and filter it out into recognizable heart and respiration rates on the computer. This project, conducted in the in the Stephenson Foundation Bioengineering Educational Laboratory here at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Bioengineering, is just one of many examples of the way this hallmark course of the bioengineering curriculum strives to bring together all aspects of students’ foundational engineering coursework into applications with significance in the real world.
Billiar, who received his M.S.E. and Ph.D. from Penn, began his research by first noticing the way that cells typically respond to the mechanical stimuli in their everyday environment, such as pressure or stretching, with behaviors like migration, proliferation, or contraction. He and his research team hope to find a way to eventually predict and control cellular responses to their environment, which they hope could open doors to more forms of treatment for disorders like heart disease or cancer, where cellular behavior is directly linked to the cause of the disease.
Self-Learning Algorithm Could Help Improve Robotic Leg Functionality
Obviously, one of the biggest challenges in the field of prosthetics is the extreme difficulty in creating a device that perfectly mimics whatever the device replaces for its user. Particularly with more complex designs that involve user-controlled motion for joints in the limbs or hands, the electrical circuits implemented are by no means a perfect replacement of the neural connections in the human body from brain to muscle. But recently at the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering, a team of researchers led by Francisco J. Valero-Cuevas, Ph. D., developed an algorithm with the ability to learn new walking tasks and adapt to others without any additional programming.
The algorithm will hopefully help to speed the progress of robotic interactions with the world, and thus allow for more adaptive technology in prosthetics, that responds to and learns with their users. The algorithm Valero-Cuevas and his team created takes inspiration from the cognition involved with babies and toddlers as they slowly learn how to walk, first through random free play and then from pulling on relevant prior experience. In a prosthetic leg, the algorithm could help the device adjust to its user’s habits and gait preferences, more closely mimicking the behavior of an actual human leg.
Neurofeedback Can Improve Behavioral Performance in High-Stress Situations
We’re all familiar with the concept of being “in the zone,” or the feeling of extraordinary focus that we can sometimes have in situations of high-stress. But how can we understand this shift in mindset on a neuroengineering level? Using the principal of the Yerkes-Dodson law, which says that there is a state of brain arousal that is optimal for behavioral performance, a team of biomedical engineering researchers at Columbia University hope to find ways of applying neurofeedback to improving this performance in demanding high-stress tasks.
Ultrasound Stimulation Could Lead to New Treatments for Inflammatory Arthritis
Arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes painful inflammation in the joints, is one of the more common diseases among older patients, with more than 3 million diagnosed cases in the United States every year. Though extreme measures like joint replacement surgery are one solution, most patients simply treat the pain with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or the adoption of gentle exercise routines like yoga. Recently however, researchers at the University of Minnesota led by Daniel Zachs, M.S.E., in the Sensory Optimization and Neural Implant Coding Lab used ultrasound stimulation treatment as a way to reduce arthritic pain in mice. In collaboration with Medtronic, Zachs and his team found that this noninvasive ultrasound stimulation greatly decreased joint swelling in mice who received the treatment as opposed to those that did not. They hope that in the future, similar methods of noninvasive treatment will be able to be used for arthritic patients, who otherwise have to rely on surgical remedies for serious pain.
People and Places
Leadership and Inspiration: EDAB’s Blueprint for Engineering Student Life
To undergraduates at a large university, the administration can seem like a mysterious, all-powerful entity, creating policy that affects their lives but doesn’t always take into account the reality of their day-to-day experience. The Engineering Deans’ Advisory Board (EDAB) was designed to bridge that gap and give students a platform to communicate with key decision makers.
The 13-member board meets once per week for 60 to 90 minutes. The executive board, comprised of four members, also meets weekly to plan out action items and brainstorm. Throughout his interactions with the group, board president Jonathan Chen, (ENG ‘19, W ‘19), has found a real kinship with his fellow board members, who he says work hard and enjoy one another’s company in equal measure.
Bioengineering major Daphne Cheung (ENG’19) joined the board as a first-year student because she saw an opportunity to develop professional skills outside of the classroom. “For me, it was about trying to build a different kind of aptitude in areas such as project management, and learning how to work with different kinds of people, including students and faculty, and of course, the deans,” she says.
Purdue University College of Engineering and Indiana University School of Medicine Team Up in New Engineering-Medicine Partnership
The Purdue University College of Engineering and the Indiana University School of Medicine recently announced a new Engineering-Medicine partnership, that seeks to formalize ongoing and future collaborations in research between the two schools. One highlight of the partnership is the establishment of a new M.D./M.S. degree program in biomedical engineering that will allow medical students at Indiana University to receive M.S.-level training in engineering technologies as they apply to clinical practice. The goal of this new level of collaboration is to further involve Purdue’s engineering program in the medical field, and to exhibit the benefits that developing an engineering mindset can have for medical students. The leadership of this new partnership includes