News and Announcements

  • Wednesday, May 02, 2012 9:06 AM | Anonymous

    Students will compete for top honors in the third annual Rice Undergraduate Venture Challenge, a business plan competition to be held Thursday, May 3, at 1:30 p.m. in the Shell Auditorium of the Jones Graduate School of Business.  

    Students will present business plans for new technology ventures. The competition was founded in 2010 by CoRE (Community of Rice Entrepreneurs), an undergraduate club. The campus-wide competition is open to all Rice undergraduates and is sponsored by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership (RCEL), the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK), the Rice University Student Association, the Indo-American Charity Foundation, Rice Engineering Alumni, AlphaDev, and Schlumberger.

    More than 25 judges from the Houston business and investment community will evaluate the presentations and select the winners based on the viability of their technology and the potential market and feasibility of the business plan.

    The teams competing this year are Audio For All, Breath Alert, FluProof, Ice Owls, Impossible Challenges, O3, Respiratory Aides, Scan At Home, Stressed Out Seniors, and Wisga, LLC. The grand prize winner will receive $4,000; second place, $2,000; third place, $1,000; best pitch, $500.

    “The RUVC is a key component of the `entrepreneurship pipeline’ we are building for undergraduates. Students test their ideas at the November Elevator Pitch Competition and receive honest feedback from judges on their commercial potential. With expert mentoring from the Rice Alliance, they refine their ideas into full business plans for the RUVC,” said Mark Embree, director of RCEL and professor of computational and applied mathematics.   

    The managing director of Rice Alliance, Brad Burke, said, “The event was created to expose engineering students to the process of commercializing the technologies they create. We hope some of these projects move forward and result in the formation of new start-up ventures.”

  • Tuesday, May 01, 2012 9:24 AM | Anonymous

    Student-devised process would prep shale gas for sale

    A team of Rice University students accepted a challenge to turn shale gas produced in China into a range of useful, profitable and environmentally friendly products and did so in a cost-effective manner.

    The CHBE Pandas (CHBE stands for chemical and biomolecular engineering) designed a process by which shale gas extracted in the rich Sichuan Basin could be turned into methanol, hydrogen and carbon disulfide, all valuable products in the booming Chinese economy. The Rice team was one of seven groups of students presented similar challenges for locations outside of the United States as their capstone design projects, required of most graduates of Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering.

    CHBE Pandas

    Members of the CHBE Pandas designed the process that would turn shale gas extracted into China into a range of marketable materials with low environmental impact. From left, Apoorv Bhargava, Kavita Venkateswar, Valicia Miller, Shelby Reinhardt, Prachi Bhawalkar and Erte Xi. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

    For their efforts, the Pandas – Apoorv Bhargava, Prachi Bhawalkar, Valicia Miller, Shelby Reinhardt, Kavita Venkateswar and Erte Xi – were grand prize winners at the Engineering Design Showcase, part of Rice’s UnConvention earlier this month.

    “We literally got the last one in the hat,” Bhargava said of the assignment handed out for their final semester at Rice. “All of the chemical engineering projects were the same, just in different locations, and how we approached the solution depended on the location.”

    The team had to deal not only with processing what’s known as “sour gas” straight out of the wellhead, but also had to come up with a solid budget for the construction and profitable operation of the plant as well as a strategy to protect the environment.

    “We think it’s a viable project because of what we’re transforming the natural gas into,” Venkateswar said. The process they designed would take in the raw shale gas produced in the controversial extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The primary product would be methanol, of which China is the largest user in the world. China blends methanol into gasoline and is developing cars that would run on pure methanol.

    The second product, hydrogen, would be a feedstock for ammonia in fertilizer production, which has great value in the Sichuan Basin, the largest agricultural area in China. The third would be carbon disulfide, widely used in the Sichuan textile industry. The team said 99 percent of the recovered fracturing fluid would be purified into water and fed into methanol production. A small amount of crystallized sludge from fracturing chemicals would be sent to a landfill.

    Team advisers Kenneth Cox and Richard Strait were inspired to issue the assignment by a Department of Energy-funded 2011 study on shale gas and U.S. national security by Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. The report details the rapid development over the last decade of technology to extract natural gas from shale, an increasingly rich resource in the United States, and the resulting shift in the world’s energy economy.

    “The world of shale gas presents a real interesting situation,” said Strait, an adjunct professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice and former director of coal monetization and CO2 management at KBR. “We’re in boom times – if you want to produce gas at what are now historically low prices. You make no profit.” He said energy producers are considering ways to turn raw shale gas into products that will better serve the market’s needs.

    “We tried to give the students problems for which there’s no current solution,” said Cox, a Rice professor in the practice of chemical and biomolecular engineering. “Major companies are looking at ways to upgrade shale gas, but no one’s built a plant to do that yet.”

    Also, Cox said, “There are a lot of issues associated with the public perception of fracking, and part of the assignment was to help change that perception by offering something that was environmentally friendly, gave benefit to the community, helped clean up the water and was still able to pull a profit at the end of the day.”

    He said the Pandas’ solution was “very imaginative” for their handling of the high concentration of highly toxic hydrogen sulfide found in Sichuan shale gas. “It’s 8.38 percent of the incoming feed,” said Venkateswar. “Usually natural gas feeds have it on the order of several hundred parts per million.”

    “The ability to make carbon disulfide provides us a solution to the high hydrogen sulfide content,” Xi said.

    Building the Pandas’ plant with the team’s innovative assembly of known technologies would cost the Chinese government $5 billion, Bhargava said. “Chemical engineering design in the real world, the way we understand it, works in three phases,” he said. “You start off with a preliminary design analysis, as we did. Then we move into another stage where the chemical engineers meet up with the mechanical engineers and start designing it in more detail: ‘What pipes do we need to go from here to there?’

    “And then we meet with the architects for the final design stage: ‘OK, what is this going to look like when we build it? Is it going to look terrible in someone’s backyard?’”

    Bhargava said the Pandas’ design process would generally take as many as 15 engineers six or seven months to accomplish. The team spent long hours using simulation software at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, where the students aligned components and tested for the desired chemical reactions. “But a computer can tell you only so much,” Bhargava said. “A chemical engineer has to make the decisions. Our design is very, very close to what a real chemical engineer does in his or her job. We were working in a very realistic setting.”

    The quality of work by Rice students was so high that another team, TEXIJI, won the annual William W. Akers Senior Design Award, as judged by a panel of industry professionals. Team members John Chapman, Ivan Loo, Anthony Mulenga, Insoo Ro, Erin Walsh and Xiaoyun Wang were honored for their project, the “clean monetization of Burgos Basin (Mexico) shale gas to dimethyl ether.”



    About Mike Williams

    Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.
  • Thursday, April 26, 2012 9:24 AM | Anonymous

    Zero-G eyewash wins grand prize in Texas Space Grant Consortium event

    A team of Rice University senior engineering students won Top Design Team, along with several other awards, at this year’s Texas Space Grant Consortium (TSGC) competition with a proposal for an emergency eyewash system for astronauts.

    Team Helios

    From left, Team Helios members Zachary Foster, Rob Bauer, Thierry Rignol, Malcolm Blake and Eric Lee.

    In addition to the grand prize, Team Helios was honored for Best Test Procedure and Documentation, Best Poster and Model Presentation and Best Oral Presentation. The team tied for first for Forum Favorite and took home a total of $1,850 in prize money.

    Helios was one of 11 teams competing in the annual NASA-sponsored event, which included competitors from Texas A&M, Texas Tech and the University of Texas.

    Team members are Rob Bauer, Malcolm Blake, Eric Lee and Thierry Rignol, all bioengineering majors, and Zachary Foster, a mechanical engineering major. Their advisers are Matthew Wettergreen, a lecturer in bioengineering, and Brent Houchens, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science.


    The eyewash goggles designed by Team Helios are designed to work in zero gravity.

    The goal of the senior capstone design project was to create a set of goggles that would allow spacefarers to both wash their eyes in an emergency while containing and eliminating excess fluids. The team’s solution involved borrowing suction from a space toilet to help contain the rinse water.

    “The comments from the judges were that this was very high-quality work, and everyone was very impressed,” Wettergreen said. “The device is successful based on the original constraints set by NASA, and with a few cosmetic modifications and superficial fixes, it could perform like a professional eyewash station.

    “The device will only work in zero gravity,” he said. “So the exciting opportunity the students had was to solve a problem that won’t even be used in the environmental conditions they inhabit.”

    Last year, two Rice teams undefined the Electric Owls and CardiOwls undefined shared the grand prize.



    About Mike Williams

    Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.
  • Tuesday, April 24, 2012 11:09 AM | Anonymous

    Maria OdenMaria Oden honored by American Society for Engineering Education

    Special to the Rice News

    The American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) has honored Maria Oden, professor in the practice of engineering education and director of the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK), with its prestigious 2012 Fred Merryfield Design Award.

    “Dr. Oden has helped more than 1,665 students learn engineering design processes and the value of teamwork, communications and entrepreneurial skills,” said Rebecca-Richards Kortum, the Stanley C. Moore Professor and interim chair of bioengineering, who nominated Oden for the honor. “Last year, one-quarter of the 42 design teams participated in national/statewide competitions and won top prizes. Maria gets much of the credit for those accomplishments.”

    Oden joined the Department of Bioengineering at Rice as a lecturer and laboratory coordinator in 2004; she guides the technical design efforts of undergraduates participating in Beyond Traditional Borders and the Rice 360˚: Institute for Global Health Technologies. Oden has mentored more than 160 students in 43 design teams in the two-semester bioengineering capstone design course sequence that she developed and taught.

    Oden earned her Bachelor of Science in engineering and master’s and Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Tulane University in 1989, 1991 and 1994, respectively, and worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School from 1994 to 1997. She also worked in orthopedic biomechanics and computational modeling as a senior research associate at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

    In 2008, Oden became the inaugural director of the OEDK, where she has inspired hundreds of students to work in teams of four or five to complete design challenge projects. More than 15 teams have won regional and national awards at design competitions. Several of their devices are being tested in the United States and abroad, and 15 students have graduated with patent applications on their resumes.

    “Maria has an incredible flair for inspiring and guiding students to solve design challenges that are ‘real world,’” said Edwin “Ned” Thomas, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Engineering at Rice University. “The teams often end up morphing the challenge and coming up with workable prototypes, some of which result in filing of intellectual property disclosures and even the occasional student-led startup that solves the original real-world problem.”

    The Fred Merryfield Design Award is presented annually in recognition of “creativity and demonstrated excellence in the teaching of engineering design.” It comes with a $2,500 honorarium, a $500 stipend for travel to the ASEE annual conference and a commemorative plaque. Oden’s department will also be given an award of $500.

    Oden will receive her award June 13 at the 2012 ASEE Conference and Exposition in San Antonio.


    About Mike Williams

    Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.
  • Friday, April 20, 2012 11:15 AM | Anonymous

    LinDi a stretch for student engineers 

    Another day, another four turns of the screw. That’s just a part of life for people, primarily children, undergoing the long and difficult process of distraction osteogenesis, a method to correct bone deformities that leave one limb shorter than the other.

    A team of Rice University undergraduates has invented a device they hope will make the process safer and easier.

    In collaboration with Shriners Hospital for Children in Houston, the students came up with “LinDi,” a self-adjusting, automated linear distractor. It eliminates manual manipulation of the screw with a motorized process that makes the gradual growth of new bone a more natural process. And for the first time in such a device, they have built in a force-feedback loop that protects fragile tissues and nerves from being overstressed.

    Team Break and Make

    Rice University students, members of Team Break and Make, show their prototype of LinDi, a motorized linear distractor to automate the process of correcting bone deformities, primarily in children. From left: Stephanie Herkes, Alvin Chou, Mario Gonzalez, Raquel Kahn and Elaine Wong. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

    To correct deformities suffered by as many as 10 million children due to trauma, infection or congenital causes, surgeons break a bone and apply a distractor that stretches the bone as it heals and gently nudges the arm or leg to a more appropriate length.

    The distractor incorporates long pins sunk right into the bone on either side of the surgical break. As the bone heals, but before it sets, the patient uses an Allen wrench to give the drive screw a quarter turn four times a day and push the pins further apart a tiny bit at a time.

    That’s inconvenient, even risky if a child or parent forgets to make the adjustment, said Rice mechanical engineering student Raquel Kahn. And wearing the bulky brace is no treat, either.

    Team members Kahn, Alvin Chou, Mario Gonzalez, Stephanie Herkes and Elaine Wong took LinDi on as their senior design capstone project at the behest of Gloria Gogola, an orthopedic hand and upper-extremity surgeon at Shriners who specializes in pediatrics.

    Rice University LinDi

    The LinDi linear distractor automates the process of lengthening children’s bones by continually separating the surgically broken bone as it heals. The device invented by Rice University seniors is intended to make the process safer and easier for children who suffer from bone deformities. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

    “The process of limb lengthening undefined essentially creating a localized mini-growth spurt undefined works well for bones, but is very hard on the soft tissues such as nerves and blood vessels,” Gogola said. “This team has done an outstanding job of designing a creative solution. Their device not only protects the soft tissues, it will ultimately speed up the entire process.”

    “The problem with the current device is that there’s a lot of room for error,” Kahn said. “You can imagine that one might forget to turn it once, or turn it the wrong way, or turn it too much. And a lot of problems can arise in the soft tissue and the nerves surrounding the bone. That’s the limiting factor of this process. But LinDi implements a motor to make the distraction process nearly continuous.”

    Kahn said the motorized, battery-operated LinDi adjusts the device almost 1,000 times every day, “so the process is more gradual and continuous, similar to actual bone growth.”

    Working at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK), the students had access to all the materials and expertise they needed to conceptualize, build and test a prototype even while completing their coursework. “We’re teaching students the importance of prototyping as early as possible,” said Marcia O’Malley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and the team’s faculty adviser. “Even if it’s cardboard and tape, they’re able to visualize a project early in the process.

    “One of the big features of this project is the force sensor,” she said. “If the loads on the tissue are too high, the device shuts the motor off.” O’Malley said early tests with strain gauges paid off in the team’s level of confidence when the time came to build a working prototype. “The great thing about the OEDK is that everything is so accessible here. I could say, ‘Well, that team over there is working with strain gauges. Go talk to them and find out how they’re doing it,” she said.

    Current patients wear distractors for as long as it takes to complete the process, typically stretching a limb for two to four months, Kahn said. Then they leave the device on for six more weeks, like a cast, while the bone sets. Each of the Rice students wore a standard distractor (minus the bone-drilling part) for 24 hours to get a feel for what patients endure. “The hardest part was we kept banging into things,” Gonzalez said.

    But through interviews with Gogola’s patients, they learned how tough children are. “We were really concerned, because it looks like a pretty scary, uncomfortable process,” Herkes said. “It looks like a torture device. We asked one little boy who had it on his humerus his No. 1 complaint and he said, ‘My school uniform is red, and it doesn’t match.’”

    Through Shriners, the team got the opportunity to perform short-term animal testing that “helped us work out some of the kinks we weren’t aware of in the device,” Herkes said.

    “We’ve gotten some nice results,” Kahn added. “Our device is doing what we want it to do.”

    Though the students are about to graduate, they expect another team to continue development of the LinDi. One goal will be to make the device less bulky, and therefore curtail wear and tear on both the distractor and the patient.



    About Mike Williams

    Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.
  • Wednesday, April 18, 2012 9:57 AM | Anonymous

    Babalung gets babies breathing again


    Rice University students have developed an inexpensive, battery-powered neonatal monitor for infants that could save many lives in the developing world.

    Five bioengineering students created the Babalung Apnea Monitor for a yearlong senior capstone project that is required of all graduating engineering students at Rice. The device consists of a small electronic microcontroller connected to an adjustable strap with a stretch sensor.

    Team Breath Alert – Rachel Alexander, Rachel Gilbert, Jordan Schermerhorn, Bridget Ugoh and Andrea Ulrich – began with the knowledge that nearly half of the 12 million babies born prematurely in developing countries experience episodes of apnea, a sudden stoppage of breathing. In general, a tap on the foot can prompt the child to resume breathing, but the widespread occurrence of the problem means there isn’t always someone available to administer that simple remedy.

    The Babalung may be the next best thing, an ingenious combination of low- and high-tech that tries on its own to restart a baby’s breathing and raises a flag if it can’t, the students said.

    The first line of defense is the elastic sensor contained within the strap surrounding the infant’s chest. “The strap expands and contracts, which the system sees as a sine wave,” said Ulrich. When the wave stops for 20 seconds, the attached microcontroller turns on a vibrating motor to prompt the infant to take a breath. If the child still isn’t breathing five seconds later, a visual alarm is triggered.

    Team Breath Alert

    A team of students has engineered the Babalung, a monitor that prompts premature infants who suffer from apnea to start breathing again and gives a visual alarm if they don't. From left: Andrea Ulrich, Bridget Ugoh, Rachel Gilbert, Jordan Schermerhorn and Rachel Alexander. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

    “We thought about an audio alarm, but there’s the risk that a nurse wouldn’t hear it in a large room. And an alarm loud enough to hear might damage the baby’s hearing,” Alexander said.

    “So we went with a flashing bike light raised above the crib, so you can see it across a room,” Gilbert said. “Now we’re doing research into what frequencies of pulsation attract the most attention.”

    “This team has worked tirelessly to design a useful technology for very-low-resource settings,” said Maria Oden, director of Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen and an adviser to the team. “They sought feedback from physicians who work in those settings and incorporated this advice into their prototype. The unique feature of the device is the system that alerts a baby as an intervention to apnea undefined all without requiring a nurse to intervene.”

    Gary Woods, a Rice professor in the practice of computer technology in the department of electrical and computer engineering, is also advising the team. Woods’ own students have designed a smartphone app to receive data from the device via Bluetooth.

    The team hopes to send three prototypes for testing in developing nations through Beyond Traditional Borders, part of the Rice 360˚: Institute for Global Health Technologies, this summer. But they envision uses for parents closer to home as well. While their primary goal is saving babies in developing countries, they would love to see Babalung on American shelves to give parents peace of mind.

    “We did a survey in January, asking recent mothers whether or not they use a SIDS monitor or an apnea monitor for their infants, and if they did, what their biggest complaint was. The No. 1 complaint was the number of false alarms,” Alexander said.

    In 50 tests that the students performed mostly on themselves, the Babalung gave no false alarms. “We caught every actual case of apnea,” Gilbert said. “We also learned how hard it is to stop breathing for 20 seconds.”

    Team members said the device costs about $25 to build now, but they hope that continued development will drive the price down further for units bound to aid global health. “In developing nations, caregivers are so understaffed and overwhelmed that to provide something this simple feels like a straightforward solution,” Ugoh said.

    Her incentive to join the project came from a place closer to her heart, though. “My sister had a baby last year, and she would stay up, not go to sleep, because she was worried whether her son was breathing or not,” Ugoh said. “I told her, ‘You know what? Next year I’m going to make you a device that detects breathing and will let you know.’ Lo and behold, this project was offered and it was on the top of my list.”


    About Mike Williams

    Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.
  • Sunday, April 15, 2012 6:40 PM | Anonymous
    The undergraduate team “CHBE Pandas” became the first team of chemical engineering seniors to win the grand prize in the Brown School of Engineering Design Showcase and Poster Competition, a featured event of this week’s UnConvention at Rice April 12-14.

    The team took the $5,000 Excellence in Engineering Design prize, one of 15 awards given at the April 12 showcase at Rice’s Tudor Fieldhouse. The name “CHBE Pandas” is a riff on the common acronym undefined which is pronounced “chubby” undefined for the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. The CHBE Pandas won for their  design of a self-sufficient chemical plant to upgrade raw natural gas and clean water used in well fracturing. The goal is to improve the quality of life for people in the Sichuan Basin in China.

    CHBE Pandas

    Members of the CHBE Pandas celebrate their victory in the Brown School of Engineering Design Showcase and Poster Competition.

    Team members are Apoorv Bhargava, Prachi Bhawalkar, Valicia Miller, Shelby Reinhardt, Kavita Venkateswar and Erte Xi.

    The CHBE Pandas and many of the other showcase winners will display their work at theOshman Engineering Design Kitchen on Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. during the UnConvention.

    Other prizes, each worth $500, went to:

     Best Interdisciplinary Design Project: tCOIL, a wireless system to power ventricular-assist devices.

     Best Conceptual Design Project: TLDW Inc., a sustainable airport-themed diner.

     Best Global Health Technologies Engineering Design Project: Team SAPHE, a postpartum hemorrhage warning system for the developing world.

     Best Energy Related Engineering Design Project: Tanker, a wireless sensor-receiver to accurately and inexpensively measure the fluid level in above-ground oil storage tanks.

     Best Health Related Engineering Design Project: CivSAFE, a replacement for cervical collars to protect the heads and necks of accident victims.

     Best Environment and Sustainability Award: Team SONSO, which has designed an environmentally sound station to link Houston’s METRO Rail to Amtrak.

     Best Sustainable Civil Design Project: CCP Civil Solutions, the design of a LEED-certified construction company headquarters.

     Best Gaming, Creative or Innovative Technology Award: Team Cadet, a customizable accelerator-decelerator equipment tester for military use.

     Best Engineering Design for Research: Team O3, a system for the ozone sterilization of bone grafts.

     Best Engineering Design Project by Underclassmen: IV Ring, an IV drip volume regulator for the developing world.

     National Instruments Award for Engineering Design: Don’t Believe the Pipe, a robot navigator to inspect complex pipeline networks.

     Texas Instruments Award for Engineering Design: Mobile Vision, a novel system for eye health diagnostics.

     Judges and Professors Choice Award: Rice Solar Car Club, the university’s first solar-powered car, which took second place in its division in the recent Shell Eco-marathon Americas.

     Students Choice Award: Breath Alert, a neonatal apnea monitor for the developing world.


    About Mike Williams

    Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.
  • Tuesday, April 10, 2012 7:17 PM | Anonymous
    Rice University HeadCase is designed to quickly immobilize accident victims’ heads to protect necks

    Undergraduate students at Rice University have come up with what they hope will prove to be a better and safer version of cervical collars to stabilize the heads and necks of accident victims. Cervical collars have been in common use since their introduction during the Vietnam War.

    The Rice seniors known as Team CivSAFE took on the challenge of a Houston researcher, an expert in spine mechanics, to develop safe and effective cervical spine protection for trauma victims.

    The team of three mechanical engineering and three bioengineering students responded to the challenge with a prototype that immobilizes the head without putting pressure on the neck. Kelsey Horter, a bioengineering student and a certified emergency medical technician, said the students tested a cervical collar currently used and found that when a patient’s neck is injured, the collar can push the head away from the body. “That separates the vertebrae and can make neck injuries worse. Some physicians believe the current collar may have compounded injuries,” she said.

    Student wearing HeadCase

    Rice University bioengineering student Kelsey Horter wears the HeadCase, an adjustable cervical collar for emergency use. Members of the student team that developed the device believe it outperforms standard cervical collars in its ability to immobilize the head and neck of a patient. (Credit: Rice University)

    “The collar was developed during the Vietnam War as a device that could be put on really quickly and would be easy to use,” said Rice senior Georgia Lagoudas.

    “Now problems with the current collar are being discovered,” Horter said. “We went back to basic emergency-care ideas.  As EMTs, we’re taught that if the knee is hurt, you stabilize above and below it. You never just stabilize the part that’s injured – which is exactly what we think the current cervical collar does. We jumped on the premise that if we could stabilize the head and the torso right beneath the neck, then we could stabilize the neck. That’s what our device does.”

    Standard collars wrap around the neck. The Rice device, called the HeadCase, takes a very different approach. “We placed the support on the side of the cheeks and the chest, and the top of the back,” said team member Sailesh Prabhu. “The result has been greater immobilization. Also, you’re immobilizing with contacts in places that won’t hurt the patient.”

    The disposable HeadCase is expected to cost less than the $15 price tag on current disposable collars, of which 15 million are used in the United States each year, the students said. “Mass production will drive down the cost,” said team member Oviea Akpotaire.

    CivSAFE team

    A team of Rice University seniors developed the HeadCase, a cervical collar that properly immobilizes the head without putting pressure on the neck. From left: Oviea Akpotaire, Kelsey Horter, Michael Zylberman, Elias Hoban, Georgia Lagoudas and Sailesh Prabhu.

    The HeadCase stores flat for easy transport and can be placed on a patient in 60 seconds, team members said.

    Inspiration for the device came from John Hipp, former director of the Spine Research Laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in Houston, who has long sought a replacement for standard cervical collars. A team led by Hipp published a study in the Journal of Trauma in 2010 showing abnormal separation between vertebrae due to cervical collars.

    “Our interest in cervical stabilization began with the realization that the collars themselves may do more harm than good,” Hipp said. “The BCM research team then confirmed through multiple experiments that conventional collars not only do not protect an injured cervical spine, but have clear potential to exacerbate cervical spine injuries. The Rice design team has arrived at what is likely to be a viable solution to the problem. Their design has the potential to save the lives of many people following severe blunt trauma.”

    He approached Maria Oden, a professor in the practice of engineering education and director of Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, about offering this challenge to engineering students, who are required to complete a senior capstone design project.

    “This challenge was very interesting for our mechanical engineering and bioengineering students because they could see that a successful design, which would require creativity and excellent engineering, could make a huge difference in trauma victim care and potentially save these patients from additional injuries,” Oden said. “And the market size for this product is large, a big plus for students interested in entrepreneurship.”

    All of the students on Team CivSAFE have spent time wearing both the original collar and their prototype, and found the new device to be much more comfortable. “We hope that will reduce the chance patients will have pressure sores,” said team member Elias Hoban.

    The team, which has filed a provisional patent through Rice, is testing student volunteers to develop statistics on just how immobilized a variety of patients wearing the HeadCase will be. Horter and Prabhu have volunteers bite down on a popsicle stick attached to an accelerometer, like those now commonly found in smartphones, to measure the range of motion they’re able to achieve both with the standard collar and the HeadCase in place.

    “One of the critical questions we’ve asked is, When a patient is turned on his side, will his head flop to the ground?” Hoban said. “We’ve found ours just does a better job” compared with standard collars, he said.

    Michael Zylberman, a mechanical engineering member of the team and an EMT with Rice’s Emergency Medical Services, has extensive experience with the use of standard collars over the past three years. “In the simplest terms, we think ours works better,” he said.

    The team will take its HeadCase prototype to IShow, a student engineering design competition to be held in Montreal in June. The high-profile competition is sponsored by ASME, formerly the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Ten student teams, including CivSAFE, have been named finalists in the competition, two of them from Rice.

    CivSAFE’s device will be on display during Rice’s UnConvention, April 12-14, during which the public is invited to take part in a wide range of activities, including the 2012 Engineering Design Showcase at Tudor Fieldhouse April 12.

  • Wednesday, April 04, 2012 7:36 PM | Anonymous


    Special to the Rice News

    A Rice University senior capstone project to help infants with sleep apnea took top honors in the second annual National Undergraduate Global Health Technologies Design Competition hosted by Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health Technologies and the Beyond Traditional Borders initiative. Other winning projects were a modular infant incubator (Columbia University) and ways to address respiratory disease (Marquette University) and a protein deficiency in malaria-prone regions (Johns Hopkins).

    Team Breath Alert

    Team Breath Alert members Jordan Schermerhorn, left, and Andrea Ulrich test the infant apnea monitor at the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. The team won the top prize at this year's National Undergraduate Global Health Technologies Design Competition.

    Eighty-four students from universities nationwide gathered at the BioScience Research Collaborative last Friday for the competition.

    “This is one of our favorite events,” said Rebecca Richards-Kortum, the Stanley C. Moore Professor of Bioengineering and director of Rice 360°. “We love to learn about the exciting technologies that engineering students across the country are designing to overcome global health challenges. This year we had more than twice as many teams compete as we did last year. This momentum reflects a growing interest among undergraduates in using their skills to be part of the solution to global health challenges, and we are glad to be a part of it.”

    Twenty-four teams from 15 universities, including three from Rice, presented their designs and delivered short oral presentations that defined a global health problem and described a technology they had designed to solve it. Teams also presented posters on their designs.

    Teams were judged on how well they articulated the global health challenges they sought to solve, the technical and social feasibility of their designs, their descriptions of the current status of their solutions and their plans to overcome remaining challenges. Judges included engineering and business faculty members from across the country, engineers from industry, physicians working in global health, technology transfer professionals and representatives from the U.S. Agency for International Development, NASA and Becton Dickinson.

    “It is incredibly inspiring to learn about the work that students are doing to improve global health,” said judge Leonard Yowell ’02, a materials research engineer at NASA Johnson Space Center. “I can certainly see some of these technologies being used in the field and having a positive impact in the lives of the world’s poor.”

    Student teams presented health technologies they had designed in response to a variety of global health challenges, including common causes of neonatal mortality, safe labor and delivery practices, fistulas, neglected tropical diseases and anemia.

    Four teams won prizes:

     Breath Alert from Rice University took first place for its Babalung Apnea Monitor, which alerts nurses when a baby is suffering from apnea. Team members were Jordan Schermerhorn, Rachel Alexander, Rachel Gilbert, Bridget Ugoh and Andrea Ulrich. They were advised by Rice faculty members Maria Oden, professor in the practice of engineering education, and Gary Woods, professor in the practice of computer technology.

     Human Powered Nebulizer from Marquette University won second place for its hand-crank nebulizer to enable patients to inhale aerosolized medication for respiratory disease. Team members were Katelynn Kramer, Andrew Weingart, Sarah Schmeidel, Brian Laning, Ellie Hawkinson and Chris Hallberg. They were advised by Lars Olson, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Marquette.

     G6PDesign from Johns Hopkins University earned third-place honors for its point-of-care diagnostic device to detect G6PD deficiency, a condition common in malaria-prone regions. G6PDesign team members were Rohit Dasgupta, Vikram Rajan, Richard Powers, Uma Mohan, Joy Ukaigwe, Hannah Jiam, Ming Kang, Jordan Mandel, Renu Kondragunta and Pranay Rao. They were advised by Anne Le, assistant professor at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

     IncuVive from Columbia University won fourth place for its modular incubator system to combat infant hypothermia in low-resource settings. Advised by Aaron Kyle, a lecturer in biomedical engineering at Columbia, team members were Kiet Vo, Min Ye Shen, Annabelle Chu Yan Fui, Indrias Bekerie and Leeanna Hyacinth.

    In addition, three teams won People’s Choice Awards. A team from Johns Hopkins University won for its presentation on “Improving Neonatal Resuscitation in the Developing World.” Teams vPRIME from the University of Pennsylvania and IV Raid from Rice University won for their posters.

    After the presentations, Johns Hopkins faculty members Harshad Sanghvi of Jhpiego  and Soumya Acharya of the Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design delivered a keynote address on the potential of global health technologies to solve some of the world’s most critical global health challenges and promising new technologies in development.



    About Mike Williams

    Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.
  • Tuesday, April 03, 2012 7:29 PM | Anonymous
     – APRIL 2, 2012

    The Rice University Solar Car club charged out of theRice solar team blocks and won second place in its first Shell Eco-marathon Americas over the weekend. Rice finished behind a team from Newburgh (N.Y.) Free Academy in the prototype solar category.

    The team overcame a series of obstacles that dogged it right up until the start of the downtown Houston event, in which they made multiple attempts to drive 6 miles undefined 10 laps around the Discovery Green track undefined within 24 minutes and 15 seconds. Cars were judged not so much for speed as for efficiency in each of the categories, which also included gas, diesel, electric and alternative fuels. Even before reaching the track on Thursday, club members pulled a series of all-nighters at the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen to configure solar panels that arrived days before the event and had to be painstakingly pieced together. The team was successful in its first trial on Saturday; it finished the course in the allotted time, but Shell’s joulemeters refused to display the amount of energy gathered by the solar panels, the main criteria for judging. On the second run, the car driven by Duncan College senior Kerry Wang broke an axle on the third lap. With fixes in place, the team completed a series of runs on Sunday. “We’re very excited to have been able to accomplish this in our first ever solar car race, and we’ve learned a lot in the process,” said club co-president and Duncan College sophomore Allison Garza. “We’re looking forward to designing and building more cars in the future and representing Rice in competitions around the country and, eventually, around the world.” 

    The Rice Solar Car team brought its vehicle, RSC Enterprise, to the Shell Eco-marathon Americas for the first time this year. The team finished second in the prototype solar class.

    About Mike Williams

    Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University

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