JADE BOYD – DECEMBER 20, 2017
POSTED IN: CURRENT NEWS, FEATURED STORIES
Rice 360º will continue fundraising for effort to end newborn deaths in Africa
NEST360°, an international team of engineers, doctors and global health experts, has won $15 million through the MacArthur Foundation’s inaugural 100&Change competition and will continue to raise money for its visionary effort to end preventable newborn deaths in Africa.
NEST360° is a collaboration of Rice University, the University of Malawi, Northwestern University, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and 3rd Stone Design of San Rafael, Calif.
“Our whole team is committed to continuing our work to scale NEST (Newborn Essential Solutions and Technologies) across Africa in order to save 500,000 newborn lives every year,” said Rebecca Richards-Kortum, a Rice bioengineering professor who represented the team together with three others Dec. 11 in NEST360°’s final presentation at the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition in Chicago. The other NEST360° presenters were Dr. Queen Dube, a clinical pediatric specialist at Malawi’s largest hospital; Joy Lawn, professor and director of the Maternal, Adolescent, Reproductive and Child Health Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine; and Robert Miros, CEO of 3rd Stone Design.
Four finalists from a field of more than 1,900 applicants vied for the $100 million grant, which was announced today by the foundation.
“We’re doubly grateful to the MacArthur Foundation, both for its $15 million commitment and its confidence in making us a 100&Change finalist,” said Richards-Kortum, director of the Rice 360° Institute for Global Health. “The 18 months our team spent preparing for this competition clearly showed there has never been a better time to address neonatal mortality in Africa. The political resolve, both internationally and among African nations, has never been stronger. The technology is attainable, and it can be delivered with a market-based approach that African hospitals can afford. Everything is aligned. We will solve this problem.”
Queen Dube, Joy Lawn, Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Robert Miros and David LeebronLong Description
NEST360° presenters (from left) Queen Dube, Joy Lawn, Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Robert Miros with Rice President David Leebron at the MacArthur Foundation 100&Change finals competition Dec. 11. (Photo courtesy Rice 360)
More than 1 million African newborns die each year, and most could be saved with simple technologies that keep babies warm, help them breathe and help doctors diagnose and manage infections. NEST360° is creating a rugged package of 17 Newborn Essential Solutions and Technologies for African hospitals, as well as the distribution network to affordably deliver and repair them continentwide. Twelve of the 17 NEST technologies have already been created or are in clinical testing, and prototypes exist for five more. Several NEST devices were invented by Rice students at the university’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK) and were improved and tested by Rice 360° students and staffers in Houston and Blantyre, Malawi.
“Rice 360°’s Newborn Essential Solutions and Technologies identifies the opportunity for action to improve the long-term prospects for the world’s children,” said Cecilia Conrad, MacArthur’s managing director who leads 100&Change. “It proposes a feasible and durable solution to remediate the effects of premature birth with its suite of 17 life-saving neonatal care technologies designed and adapted for low-resource settings. It proved worthy of MacArthur’s support. MacArthur is deeply committed to helping Rice 360° attract the support its critical work requires and finding partners to realize its impactful solution.”
Richards-Kortum and Maria Oden, OEDK director and NEST360° co-lead, thanked the entire NEST team for its dedication in preparing for the 100&Change competition. The team includes dozens of people on three continents.
“Every member of our team, including more than a dozen Rice students and Rice 360° staff, worked countless hours on NEST,” Oden said. “But a special note of thanks goes to the team leadership in Malawi, Tanzania and Nigeria, including Nigerian Minister of Health Isaac Adewole, who traveled to Chicago in support of this project. Our African partners are vital to NEST’s success. It simply won’t happen without them.”
Richards-Kortum said the team has already begun to make plans for raising the rest of the funding they’ll need to make NEST a reality.
“It will take an investment on the order of $100 million to change things for African newborns, and there are few options for securing that much support at once,” Richards-Kortum said. “The good news is that we can build that magnitude of support from combined sources, and we’re committed to leveraging the $15 million to do that.”
Richards-Kortum is the Malcolm Gillis University Professor and professor of bioengineering and of electrical and computer engineering at Rice. Oden is a full teaching professor in bioengineering.
Congratulations to 2017 ECE Senior Design Team Ictal Inhibitors on winning second place in the student paper competition at the 51st Asilomar Conference on Signals and Systems!
Their paper, “On Developing an FPGA Based System for Real Time Seizure Prediction,” was authored by Sarah Hooper, Erik Biegert, Marissa Levy, Luke Van der Spoel, Xiaoran Zhang, all class of 2017, ECE junior Tianyi Zhang, their advisor, ECE faculty member Behnaam Aazhang, and Dr. Nitin Tandon of UT Health Science Center.
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder marked by unprovoked and recurring seizures and affects almost 3 million Americans today. Surgery has promising results but also some serious risks. The Aazhang group is looking for an alternate solution through electrical neurostimulation.
“Our research is focused on creating a seizure prediction system to help improve epilepsy treatment,” said Hooper, who presented at the conference on behalf of the team. “Over the past few years, we have worked to create a new seizure prediction algorithm that can predict seizures before they occur, and we implemented this algorithm on FPGA hardware.”
Senior Design teams advised by Aazhang and ECE faculty member Gary Woods have tackled the same topic for the past few years, always building on the work of the previous team. The Ictal Inhibitors iteration worked to develop an algorithm that they proved could accurately predict upcoming seizures before the brain enters the ictal state, the state where the individual is actively having a seizure. The team’s algorithm predicted all seizures in their data set at least two minutes before their onset, with 3.9 false positives per hour.
Future teams will work on implantable hardware that will respond to this prediction, applying an electrical stimulation to specific areas of the brain to prevent the seizure.
“I'm excited to see the progress that this year's research team makes as they move the project forward,” Hooper said.
The Asilomar Conference on Signals, Systems, and Computers is a yearly conference held in Pacific Grove, CA. It provides a forum for presenting recent and novel work in various areas of theoretical and applied signal processing. The 2017 Student Paper Award winners were announced Oct. 31.
This is the third recent award for the team. In April, the Ictal Inhibitors Team won top honors at the OEDK Showcase. The Excellence in Engineering Design Award brought with it a prize of $5,000. Two weeks before that, they took Best Senior Design Award at ECE Corporate Affiliates Day.
“We’re really happy our work got second place in the student paper contest,” Hooper said. “We're excited to see that our goal of using electrical engineering to improve epilepsy treatment is something that got other people in the field excited and garnered support.”
Rice University Lecturer Deirdre Hunter was honored with an Alumni Faces of 2017 award from Onondaga Community College, one of her alma maters. The award recognizes outstanding graduates who “have achieved recognized success and made significant contributions to the betterment of society.” Hunter graduated from OCC in 2002.
“I feel really humbled by this,” she said. “I moved to Syracuse, New York when I was 18, and I wasn’t college bound. In high school, I thought I would go to college, but I made some choices that altered my path. I thought then that if you don’t go to college when you’re 18, you don’t get to go. I didn’t know you could get a second chance.”
OCC, she said, gave her that second chance. She’d been working at a medical waste processing plant, and thought earning an associate’s degree would put her on a path to being a plant supervisor. She had no idea the degree would alter the course of her life. Hunter would go on to graduate from Syracuse University, and later earn a doctorate at Virginia Tech. She joined the Rice faculty in December 2016, where she co-teaches ENGI 120: Introduction to Engineering Design and ENGI 350: Needs Identification and Design Implementation.
“All along the way in my education, I had faculty who helped me see beyond what I thought I could do, and showed me my next steps. That’s one of the reasons I chose to start teaching.”
Throughout her teaching career, she has tried to create what she calls “a small classroom” environment for her students, giving them a place where she knew their names and their strengths. When she came to Rice, she was struck immediately by the fact that the University makes that setting a priority.
“It wasn’t just me, or a few of my colleagues,” she said. “Everyone here has that commitment to developing personal relationships with students and helping them succeed.”
Hunter’s classes give her students experiential learning opportunities. She said that teaching the engineering design course has helped her develop as an educator, even as she’s encouraging the next generation of engineers. The class requires that students tackle real-world problems, many of them presented to Rice by local industries, and encourages them to find solutions and build design prototypes. Hunter said the process encourages students to try different things as they search for solutions, but it also made her aware of the preparation she needed to bring to the classroom.
“Sometimes, I might not know the answer to something,” she said. “I may not know how a particular thing works. So, I have to learn that, and by encouraging students to try something new, to see how to find a solution, I’m discovering right along with them.”
That sense of discovery is part of what encouraged her to develop ENGI 350.
“This is kind of the bookends around the introduction to design class,” she explained. “With ENGI 120, students receive a problem to work on. Here, they’re talking with clients and observing workplace settings, to identify problems that a client might not know exists. So, they need to identify a need that could be solved with the design of a device or process, which is something they’ll encounter in their careers.”
Hunter said that watching students work and having interaction with them are two of the things she loves about being at Rice. With an office in the OEDK, she has a front-row seat to watch as students progress on design projects.
“I love how driven they are,” she said. “They’re taking tough classes, but they get so engaged and involved. That’s exciting to watch as a professor. And I love being able to be part of their learning process.”
Hunter hopes to continue to inspire her students the way her professors inspired her. She knows her path to teaching is somewhat unconventional, but she also knows that her experiences shaped her and gave her a valuable perspective to share with her students.
“I’m not sure that many people who go on to get Ph.D.s and work at prestigious institutions get their starts at community colleges,” she said. “But I always include OCC on my résumé and I’ve always talked about it. That’s where I got my start.”
NEST360°, a visionary 10-year effort to save the lives of 500,000 African babies per year, is a finalist for the MacArthur Foundation’s first $100 million 100&Change grant.
NEST360° is one of four 100&Change finalists named today by the foundation. One finalist will be awarded $100 million in December. The 100&Change competition, which began more than a year ago, aims to solve one of the world’s critical problems. The competition drew more than 1,900 applications, and eight semifinalists were selected in February.
NEST360°, an international effort by physicians, engineers, entrepreneurial and business leaders, is firmly rooted in Africa, a continent where more than 1 million babies die each year, mostly from preventable causes. The technology needed to save their lives has been available in the United States and most European countries for more than 50 years, but the equipment used in those countries is not built to last in the harsh environments of African hospitals.
NEST360, a finalist for the MacArthur Foundation’s first $100 million 100&Change grant, would catalyze continentwide change to end preventable newborn deaths in Africa. (Image courtesy of Rice 360°)
NEST360° will optimize and scale a package of these “newborn essential solutions and technologies” (NEST) for Africa, train health care workers to use NEST, work within African health care systems and markets to generate demand for NEST and create a distribution network to provide NEST continentwide. Within 10 years, NEST360° estimates it could reduce newborn death rates by 50 percent and save 500,000 lives per year at a cost of $1.48 per birth, which is less than the cost of some routine vaccines. In addition, NEST360° will work with African universities, medical schools and colleges to involve African engineers and entrepreneurs in the NEST transformation so they can sustain the change and transform other health sectors.
“Our team has worked together to improve newborn health for 12 years, and we have designed our program to be the lever that will catalyze continent-wide change,” said NEST360°’s Rebecca Richards-Kortum, a bioengineering professor and global health leader from Rice University. “Our 100&Change activities will generate proof — and more importantly belief — that a solution to the persistent challenge of poor outcomes for newborns is within reach. Not only will this save the lives of 500,000 newborn babies every year, it will create long-lasting systems change that can help solve other health care challenges both in Africa and beyond.”
NEST360°’s roots are in the east African nation of Malawi. Work began there a decade ago by Rice 360° Institute for Global Health to design simple technologies that keep babies warm, help them breathe, help doctors manage infection and solve other problems. In addition to Rice University, the NEST360° team includes partners from the University of Malawi, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and medical device-maker 3rd Stone Design of San Rafael, Calif.
For more information about the NEST360° team, technologies or plans, visit www.rice360.rice.edu/nest-360.
Reginald DesRoches, chair of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, will become dean of Rice University’s George R. Brown School of Engineering July 1.
A fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers, DesRoches specializes in research on the design of resilient infrastructure systems under extreme loads and the application of smart and adaptive materials. He served as the key technical leader in the United States’ response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
“The George R. Brown School of Engineering is a critical element in Rice’s national and international identity,” said Provost Marie Lynn Miranda. “We undertook a broad and thorough search that included extensive engagement with all stakeholder groups. In Dr. DesRoches, we found a world-class scholar, an award-winning educator, an innovative problem-solver, a collaborative and consultative leader, a creative and compelling communicator and a person of tremendous vision for engineering and higher education more widely. I am delighted that Reggie has agreed to join us at Rice and very much look forward to working with him. I am grateful for the hard work of the search committee. This is a great development for Rice.”
DesRoches joined the faculty of Georgia Tech in Atlanta as an assistant professor in 1998 after completing his Ph.D. in structural engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2002 he received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor given to scientists and engineers in the early stages of their careers. He became a professor in 2008, and in 2012 he was named the Karen and John Huff School Chair and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering – a position in which he provides leadership to a top-ranked program with 100 faculty and staff and more than 1,150 students.
As chair, DesRoches has overseen a $13.5 million renovation of the school’s main facility. He doubled the number of named chairs and professors, developed a Corporate Affiliates Program, led both a comprehensive strategic planning process and a strategic interdisciplinary research initiative and guided the development of a new minor in global engineering leadership for engineering undergraduates. He also became Georgia Tech’s faculty athletics representative and helped formulate policies affecting intercollegiate athletics on campus. He has served as thesis adviser to 30 doctoral candidates and 17 master’s students.
Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and raised in Queens, a borough of New York City, DesRoches said his love of science and math and his interest in “tinkering with things” led him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Berkeley. He was at Berkeley when the San Francisco area was hit with a magnitude 6.9 earthquake in 1989, and he witnessed firsthand the structural damage in the Bay Area. “I became fascinated with studying structural engineering and how we could design structures to perform better in earthquakes, and I ended up studying that for my master’s and Ph.D.,” he said.
DesRoches said he’s “thrilled” about coming to Rice. “I’ve always known that the quality of the faculty at Rice is top-notch,” he said. “And Rice has some of the brightest students in the world. Some of them ended up coming to graduate school at Georgia Tech, and they were certainly among the best students I’ve had.” He also likes Rice’s size and the university’s location in a major city that is one of the most diverse in the U.S. “It’s a really exciting opportunity for me and my family,” he said.
“On meeting Reggie, I immediately shared the enthusiasm of the search committee,” said President David Leebron. “I am excited to work with him to achieve our highest aspirations for the Brown School of Engineering and Rice University more broadly. He will be an invaluable member of our leadership team.”
DesRoches serves on the National Academies Resilient America Roundtable, the Board on Army Science and Technology, the National Science Foundation’s Engineering Advisory Committee, the Global Earthquake Modeling Scientific Board and the advisory board for the Natural Disasters, Coastal Infrastructure and Emergency Management Research Center. He has chaired the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Seismic Effects Committee as well as the executive committee of the Technical Council on Lifeline Earthquake Engineering.
He has testified before U.S. House and Senate subcommittees on earthquake resilience and the state of the science. He also has participated in Washington, D.C., roundtables for media and congressional staffers on topics ranging from disaster preparedness to challenges for African-American men in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Among DesRoches’ honors are the 2015 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Charles Martin Duke Lifeline Earthquake Engineering Award, the 2007 ASCE Walter L. Huber Civil Engineering Research Prize and the 2008 Georgia Tech ANAK Award, which is the highest honor the undergraduate student body can bestow on a Georgia Tech faculty member. He was elected to the UC Berkeley Civil Engineering Department Academy of Distinguished Alumni in 2015.
DesRoches said he and his wife, Paula, look forward to moving to Houston. They have three children: Andrew, Jacob and Shelby. During his free time, DesRoches enjoys running, biking, traveling and watching sports.
DesRoches succeeds Ned Thomas, who will complete his service as dean of engineering at the end of the 2016-17 academic year and return to the Department of Materials Science and NanoEngineering as a full-time faculty member.
By Ned Thomas
Special to Rice News
Editor’s note: The commentary below originally appeared in the June 26 Dean’s (Final) Message from the George R. Brown School of Engineering.
“So long, and thanks for all the fish!”
That’s the title of a great Doug Adams book inspired by a message left from all the dolphins as they exited Planet Earth because of the coming of the hyperspace bypass. So, as I depart Planet Rice for my sabbatical at the University of Virginia after six years as serving as your dean of engineering, I am inspired to take this opportunity to leave a message.
First some words of praise for the things we in the School of Engineering do very well: OEDK (Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen), RCEL (Rice Center for Engineering Leadership), the Engineering Design Showcase, high-spirited clubs, rigorous mathy-engineering fundamentals, hands-on engineering, materials — from plasmonics to water purification to machine learning to sensing, student organizations like NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers), SHPE (Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers), CSters (Rice Women in Computing), SWE (Rice Society of Women Engineers — there are 35 percent women in the school!), and of course the three ships: leadership, internships and entrepreneurship. Students, faculty and staff should definitely feel very good about these awesome and distinctive aspects of our school.
But to become an even greater place, we need to continually work to get better. We need to push ourselves to do more, to collaborate and team together, to plan better and by grit, and dedication, deliver on our ambitious dreams. We need to improve our ability to launch new ventures (and now is the time to do this with the Vision for the Second Century II, or V2C2, on the horizon). Indeed, there are some really cool and highly impactful BLUE SKY IDEAS that are percolating through the faculty (many of these are led by younger faculty who are the future of Rice engineering!) that I am sure will become enabled by the new university fundraising campaign. Indeed, these research thrusts will allow us to address problems of critical importance for the planet! We need to exploit the qualities that set Rice apart — our relative small size and the ability to get to really know people, the tight-knit community of researchers — teachers: remember: (R+T)^2! We need to continue to build diversity in our faculty and student body and to build buildings — our substantial growth in students and in research drives the need for modern new infrastructure for the school and it is my hope that we will be able to inspire donors to help us — not only based on the obvious need for space — but on the great things we can accomplish in these new spaces so that Rice engineers can positively impact the many challenging problems our planet faces.
Finally, I need to admit that a dean doesn’t actually do things — mostly it is organizing and leading/inspiring others to do the things — so I want to give my leadership team of department chairs and my extraordinary Dean’s Office Staff a most heartfelt thanks for their dedication and devotion to the great George R. Brown School of Engineering. It’s been an honor and privilege to have served as your dean. So long, and genuine thanks for allowing me the chance to serve this great school.
–Ned Thomas completed his role as the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering June 30. He is a professor of materials science and nanoengineering and of chemical and biomolecular engineering.
Monday, June 5, 2017
Maria Oden, director of the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK) at Rice University and a pioneer in healthcare technologies for the developing world, has been named to the recently created position of full teaching professor in bioengineering, effective July 1.
Oden also serves as co-director of Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health, and previously held the position of professor in the practice of bioengineering (BIOE).
“Maria Oden is arguably the most impactful teacher on campus. She cares deeply about design and teamwork and bringing out the excellence in every one of the more than 1,200 students who set foot in the OEDK every year. Amazing things happen all the time, and we’ve come to expect Maria to magically make it so -- and she does!” said Edwin L. “Ned” Thomas, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering.
Paula Sanders, vice provost for academic affairs, explained that the position of full teaching professor was created to recognize faculty members who have “established a record of consistently excellent teaching at Rice or elsewhere, who are recognized as pedagogical mentors in their department and school, and who are demonstrated pedagogical leaders in their discipline.”
Oden earned a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Tulane University in 1994 and spent three years as a postdoctoral fellow and instructor at Harvard Medical School. She served as a senior research associate at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and as a faculty member at the UT Health Science Center at Houston. She joined the Rice faculty in 2004.
Oden’s development of engineering design programs for undergraduates in bioengineering, the Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB) initiative and Global Health Technologies (GLHT) minor, were recognized by the Fred Merryfield Design Award from the American Society for Engineering Education in 2012. BTB was chosen as a model program by Science magazine and awarded the Science Prize for Inquiry-Based Instruction in 2012 and the Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation the following year. Oden has been selected twice for Rice’s George R. Brown Prize for Superior Teaching (2012 and 2016).
Patrick Kurp, Engineering Communications
HOUSTON – (May 5, 2017) – Call it retro-innovation. The astral tracker designed by Rice University’s Team Solar Lunar 2.0 suggests not cutting-edge breakthroughs but archaic technologies: the astrolabe, the orrery, even the sundial.
“We had a majestic object in mind,” said Team Solar Lunar 2.0 member Caz Smith. “We wanted to create an artistic exhibit that shows the real-time position of the sun and moon, connecting their locations to the location of the user. We wanted to bring people closer to the sun and moon.”
With fellow students Logan Baldridge, Liz Kacpura and Noah Kenner, Smith has designed and constructed a device as sculptural as it is astronomical. The idea came from John Mulligan, a lecturer in public humanities at Rice.
“The goal is to give you a sense of the way you relate to the celestial bodies,” Mulligan said. “You should feel yourself as a point hurtling through space. It’s an aesthetic effect I want to achieve.”
The visible portion of the astral tracker consists of two arcs attached to a vertical shaft that serves as an axis. The larger arc, painted gold, tracks the position of the sun. The smaller arc within the larger arc is painted silver and tracks the moon. An arrow on the outer rim of each arc points to the appropriate heavenly body.
Two motors are concealed in the base and two in the arcs. Using a Raspberry Pi minicomputer and the PyEphem Python Library, the tracker calculates the altitude and azimuth of the sun and moon for a given longitude, latitude and time. The calculations drive the motorized arcs to follow the azimuth of both bodies.
“We had some trouble with the electronics,” Smith said. “We’ve melted several wires, and the power supply has failed sometimes. We’re not electronics experts.” Baldridge is a sophomore and the others are freshmen. All are mechanical engineering majors. Each team member devoted roughly 10 hours a week to working on the project.
“It became an exercise in breaking down a project into its discrete parts,” Smith said. “One person did most of the wiring, one did the code and one handled the aesthetics.”
The device remains a work in progress. Electrical tinkering remains to be done. The team has prepared a 12-page instruction manual if a future team, this summer or next fall, chooses to continue the project. In the introduction to their manual the team members write:
“At the end of the semester, the device will be installed in Dr. Mulligan’s research laboratory. From there, it will ideally find a permanent home as part of a museum exhibition.”
A team of Rice engineering students recently took top honors and a $5,000 prize for its development of a potential digital cure for epilepsy.
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by unpredictable, recurrent seizures that can pose a risk to a patient’s safety. When undergoing a seizure, the brain is considered to be in an “ictal” state. Team Ictal Inhibitors‘ goal was to develop a neurostimulator that stimulates the brain to prevent the onset of seizures.
To create the system, the team first needed to develop a seizure-prediction algorithm. The students created a machine-learning algorithm that was “very good” at predicting seizures: It predicted all seizures in their data set at least two minutes before their onset with 3.9 false positives per hour. The team then transferred this prediction algorithm to custom hardware that runs on patient data to predict seizures in real time.
“What our system is trying to do is predict and prevent seizures in real time,” said Sarah Hooper, a senior electrical engineering major. “The first stage of our system is to record neural activity from the brain. That activity is then sent to our piece of hardware, which has the algorithm that produces a seizure prediction. Using the electrical signals that are produced in the brain, we can predict if a seizure is going to occur in the next five minutes or so.”
Hooper said that if a seizure were about to occur, the hardware would then communicate back to electrodes implanted in the brain to apply electrical neurostimulation, which can actually stop the seizure before it occurs.
“Three years ago, the project was basically an idea,” said Erik Biegert, a senior who will graduate in May with an electrical engineering degree. “About one-third of the 3 million epilepsy patients in the United States don’t respond to anti-seizure medications. The only option left for those patients is to undergo surgery to remove the part of the brain that is the issue; we hope to replace that option with something a lot less invasive.”
The project is part of Rice’s Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) program, which aims to integrate graduate students, seniors and underclassmen. The VIP program began at Georgia Tech, and when it was funded by the Helmsley Trust, the program encouraged nationwide participation. That is how Rice became involved in the project and one of 25 universities in the VIP consortium, according to the team’s faculty adviser Behnaam Aazhang, who is the J.S. Abercrombie Professor of electrical and computer engineering.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is the sponsor of the broader research project that underlies this VIP project. The NSF-funded project grew out of discussions between Aazhang and Dr. Nitin Tandon, a prominent neurosurgeon at University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Tandon, a co-principal investigator of the NSF project, provides real intracranial patient seizure data for the project as well as technical advice and specifications.
While the six seniors who are members of Team Ictal Inhibitors will be moving on after commencement in May, Gary Woods, the team’s co-adviser and professor in the practice in computer technology, said the project will move forward. “A current junior will take the reins for next year and build a senior team to drive the project further along,” he said.
The current team is looking to offer guidance to the next team. Randy Zhang, a senior electrical engineering major, said the team is preparing an academic paper to publish on the project and technology this summer. “In terms of next steps, I think that what mostly needs to be done is work on how the device is actually going to interact with the input electrodes and how it would pass on its output to actual neurostimulators,” he said. “What we really focused on this year was to create the processing unit and all of the machine learning intelligence that can make this happen. On a higher level, the next steps could be to flesh out the design and move it onto a silicon chip so it can be created into an actual device.”
“This is a work in progress, and we’re just scratching the surface,” Aazhang said. “This is at least three to five to seven years away from a product that could begin the clinical trials process, and then there is forming a business partnership, along with the whole FDA approvals process.”
“We’re really proud of the work we did this year,” said Luke Van der Spoel, a senior electrical engineering major. “We received really good feedback from the public and our mentors, but I think winning the competition was a big surprise for us with all of the other great projects. We really didn’t expect it.”
The team also won first place and $500 at Rice’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Corporate Affiliates Day.
“Ictal Inhibitors has created one of the technically most sophisticated projects I’ve mentored, and their performance as an integrated team of engineers is probably the best I’ve seen,” Woods said. “The VIP team structure has allowed the team to perform together at the level of a seasoned team of professional engineers.”
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