News and Announcements

  • Wednesday, April 13, 2016 9:41 AM | Amy Kavalewitz (Administrator)

    A hand for the hand-makers

    Rice University students design force-testing device for makers of children’s 3-D printed prosthetics

    HOUSTON – (April 12, 2016) – Those who make 3-D printed prosthetic hands may come to rely on a printed palm Rice University students developed to help ensure that children get the most out of the devices.

    The Rice team calling itself Carpal Diem has developed a testing suite to validate how well 3-D printed hands transfer force from the wearer, typically a child born without a fully formed hand, to the prosthetic intended to help pick up and manipulate small objects.

    These 3-D printed hands have become a source of pride for a community of “makers” who trade designs on the Internet and print hands for children who need them. But the Rice students said the 3-D printed prosthetics are not as efficient as they could be.

    “Children born without full hands are forced to adapt to the world and figure out how to go about their daily routines,” said Rice student Amber Wang. “If a prosthetic hand is not absolutely perfect in its function, the child will probably discard it and return to his or her own adaptive ways.”

    The team members developed their rig as their senior capstone design project, required of most Rice engineering students. It will be on display at this week’s George R. Brown School of Engineering Design Showcase, at which prizes of up to $5,000 will be awarded to the best of more than 80 teams. Gary Woods, a Rice professor in the practice of computer technology and electrical and computer engineering, is the team’s faculty adviser, and Rice alumna Carolyn Huff and her husband, Harrell, are the sponsors.

    The team’s suite consists of a motorized wrist-and-palm assembly that can move up to 60 degrees in either direction, a set of objects (a cylinder, a sphere and a rectangular prism) with embedded force sensors and a control program with a graphic user interface. An operator uses the program to bend the wrist and close the printed hand’s fingers and thumb around an object. Sensors in the object send feedback on force strength and distribution to the computer.

    Bioengineering majors Nicolette Chamberlain-Simon and Michaela Dimoff, electrical and computer engineering major Nirali Desai and mechanical engineering majors Rachel Sterling and Wang began strategizing even before they returned to Rice for their senior year.

    At first, Dimoff said, they thought they would simply design a better hand. “But we realized there were so many designs out there that it was really the force-testing device that needed to happen,” Chamberlain-Simon added.

    “If a kid has to put in five pounds of force to only get one pound of grip, that’s a lot of lost efficiency because of how these hands are designed,” Sterling said. “Until we reach a force efficiency of 100 percent, the hands aren’t going to be useful.”

    “The industry standards for testing these kinds of devices are not very well established,” Desai said. “We had to get very creative about how we were going to test the accuracy and precision of our device.”

    “We’re designing it so someone working with e-NABLE (the global network of volunteers who design and print these prosthetics) can have one in the lab, print three different prototypes and test them in rapid succession,” Dimoff said.

    The team hopes to put the first prototype of the testing device and a detailed protocol for its use into the hands of their mentor, Dr. Gloria Gogola, a pediatric hand surgeon at Shriners Hospital for Children-Houston who has worked with many Rice engineering teams in recent years, by the end of the school year.

    “Eventually we want to have specs for people who want to make these devices themselves,” Chamberlain-Simon said.

  • Monday, April 11, 2016 9:40 AM | Amy Kavalewitz (Administrator)

    Three cheers for a treehouse

    A mighty treehouse goes up around a mighty oak outside Rice's Ryon Lab.

    A mighty treehouse goes up around a mighty oak outside Rice’s Ryon Lab. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

    Rice freshmen design and build treehouse outside Ryon Lab

    The most unique student engineering project of the year may also be the easiest to see: a treehouse built by freshmen just outside Ryon Lab.

    The structure came together in the first full week of April when, with all the pieces prepared and all the approvals granted, the team finished what it had started in the fall.

    The students — Kevin Trejo, Jordan Wheeler, Philip King, Nathalie Phillips and Nikhil Rajesh — were following through on an idea first generated by an engineering student several years ago.

    “The idea to build a treehouse came up when we were in a drought, so we waited,” said Ann Saterbak, a professor in the practice of bioengineering education who advised the team with engineering lecturer Matthew Wettergreen. “Basically it’s been an idea on our master list of projects for many years.”

    Students rigged for safety work at the treehouse site.

    A students rigged for safety works at the treehouse site.

    With guidelines on regions to avoid from Facilities Engineering and Planning, the team walked the campus last fall to choose candidate trees and decided on an oak not far from the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK). “It turned out that the relation between the tree and the OEDK was tantamount to getting it done because we had to get all our tools and supplies back and forth,” Saterbak said. “It’s probably the nicest tree closest to the OEDK.”

    “The point was to make it a fun place for students to be,” she said. “We’ll know we succeeded when we see students begin to use it.”



    About Mike Williams

    Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.
  • Thursday, March 31, 2016 9:38 AM | Amy Kavalewitz (Administrator)

    Unconventional students at Rice: Claire O’Malley

    The Rice campus has been a fertile landscape of opportunities for Baker College senior Claire O’Malley. The San Francisco native, a double major in mechanical engineering and visual and dramatic arts, has made her mark from the art studios of Sewall Hall to the shop floors of the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK).

    “I was really excited about coming to Rice and being able to study studio arts and engineering, and to marry those two and do something interesting with that,” said O’ Malley, who is serving as the co-director of the student-run Matchbox Gallery in Sewall Hall. “I’ve always had a super-intense creative impulse. When I came to Rice, my idea of art was spun 180 degrees. I was exposed to diverse types of art. I interacted with people who think of art differently than I did.” O’Malley said during her four years at Rice, her understanding of the importance of art and her impulse to make art have changed.

    Wearing her mechanical engineering hat, she is currently in the final stages of a yearlong design project to create an articulating arm that assists with wastewater cleanup in Houston’s bayous. The arm will help people who clean the bayous to collect 20 garbage trucks’ worth of plastic bags per year, O’Malley said. “We are trying to design this arm that helps people collect this trash a lot more easily just because there’s way too much of it.”

    After Rice, O’Malley is planning to pursue a career in product design. “Something that I would like to design tackles the drought issues in California,” she said. “It’s basically to make this pump that recycles wastewater in peoples’ homes so they can reuse water they’ve barely used.”

    About Brandon Martin

    Greetings, I am a video producer at Rice University in the Office of Public Affairs. I became a Rice Owl in June 2011. Before that, I was at KPRC-TV in Houston as a special projects photojournalist for seven years, where I covered everything from hurricanes to sports. Southeast Texas has been my home my entire life. I am lucky to have a wonderful wife and two of the cutest girls I have ever seen. Go Owls!
  • Thursday, March 31, 2016 9:36 AM | Amy Kavalewitz (Administrator)

    It’s a horse, of course … but better

    The Hippo Riders team of Rice engineering students has created a horse simulator for use by hippotherapy patients. From left: Amy Ryu, Erik Hansen, Jaime Gomez and Brett Berger.

    The Hippo Riders team of Rice engineering students has created a horse simulator for use by hippotherapy patients. From left: Amy Ryu, Erik Hansen, Jaime Gomez and Brett Berger. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

    Rice University engineering students create equine simulator for hippotherapy

    Some patients who could benefit from hippotherapy might not have access to a horse, due to geographic location, weather or affordability. Rice University engineering students have developed an alternative with their horse simulator, a robotic steed that can be ridden indoors anytime.

    A team of students calling themselves the Hippo Riders created their device as a senior capstone design project at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. The device will be demonstrated at the university’s annual Engineering Design Showcase April 14.

    The simulator could give patients who use hippotherapy – also known as equine-assisted therapy — more opportunities to follow a regimen intended to help those with neurological or physical disorders like autism, arthritis, cerebral palsy and other ailments. The rhythmic, swinging motion is thought to enhance balance, coordination and motor development.

    “It really does engage your core muscles and the ability to balance, and that’s what helps people,” said Amy Ryu, a mechanical engineering major.

    “And it’s fun,” added teammate Jaime Gomez, also a mechanical engineer, after five minutes in the saddle.

    Jaime Gomez tests the horse simulator

    Jaime Gomez tests the horse simulator. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

    The robust prototype built with $1,200 in parts and a lot of labor began with help from Conroe-area physical therapist Janis Wells, who found her way to Rice through her work with team sponsors Harrell and Carolyn Huff. Carolyn is a Rice alumna.

    “Janis was my physical therapist,” Harrell Huff said. “One day we were talking and I said, ‘Isn’t it expensive to have a horse and all this stuff? Why don’t y’all go to a bar and borrow one of those bucking broncos?’

    “She said they can’t do that, so I said, ‘Would it be to your advantage to have a mechanical device that would substitute for a horse?’ I told her I knew a group that could probably design one.”

    Wells told the team she wanted a way for patients to ride indoors during inclement weather or when the cost of reserving a horse was a factor. Ryu said physical therapy sessions with a horse can cost up to $150 an hour.

    The resulting device differs from mechanical bulls and kiddie rides at supermarkets in the degree of control offered by three motors that can be programmed to operate independently and simulate a variety of gentle gaits.

    “We can control the voltage and current output,” said Brett Berger, also a mechanical engineering major. “That lets us run a complicated control program for different motions.

    “In the ride outside a grocery store, you put a quarter in and it moves back and forth a little bit,” he said. “But in our device, we can control the speed, the intensity and the type of gait, all routed through a microcontroller.”

    “Because the motors are independently controllable, we can exert a huge degree of control over how the horse is moving,” added Erik Hansen, the team’s lone bioengineering major.

    Amy Ryu and Erik Hansen make an adjustment to their robotic horse.

    Amy Ryu and Erik Hansen make an adjustment to their robotic horse. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

    The simulator can safely hold patients weighing up to 250 pounds, said the team members, who were advised by Rice engineering lecturer Matthew Elliott. “We designed it statically to hold much more than 250 pounds, and it won’t break until it goes up to 1,000-plus pounds,” Berger said. “But at 250 pounds, the motors stall. It’s just going to stop moving. The machine won’t continue, but it won’t break down.”

    Motorized scissor lifts control the saddle height for each rider.

    The students expect a new team of electrical engineering and computer science students will pick up the project next year and advance the control system to a more sophisticated level.

    “We had to learn on the job how to weld, how to machine and how to build,” Berger said, noting that some computer programming was required as well. “But we don’t have the level of controllability we think our device is capable of. Moving forward, we expect another team will take it to the next level so that a physical therapist can use it in a clinic.”

    “That’s going to require a more sophisticated control scheme than we have had time to learn how to do,” Hansen added. “A future team could get it to be like a horse walking through different kinds of obstacles or terrain.”

    But the decorative, neighing hobby-horse head had better stay. Installing it was just too hard for the team to resist.


    About Mike Williams

    Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.

  • Monday, March 28, 2016 9:34 AM | Amy Kavalewitz (Administrator)

    Waste not, grow more food

    Rice University engineering students’ device makes composting easier

    It’s good for crops, it’s good for water and, in the end, it’s good for people and the planet. Why would anyone not turn food waste into compost?

    Rice University engineering students asked that question at the start of the school year and have spent the months since refining their answer.

    The team known as (com)post-haste invented a device that sits under one’s sink and takes macerated food waste produced by a standard garbage disposal and sends it in one direction while liquid waste (including water) goes in another. Effectively, it simplifies the process of recycling garbage into a useful product while helping to protect water supplies.

    The students make up one of more than 80 capstone design teams at Rice. Most senior engineering students are required to complete a project to graduate and are presented with a host of possibilities when they begin their classes in August.

    For all the members of (com)post-haste, developing the device they call The BioBlend was a natural.

    “I think for all of us this was the top choice,” said Kavana Gowda, who like all of her teammates is a senior mechanical engineering student. Other members are Christina Petlowany, Andrew Miller, Edgar Silva, Mitch Torczon and Ryan Yeh.

    Rice University engineering students have invented a device to separate compostable materials from food waste processed by a garbage disposal. From left, Ryan Yeh, Christina Petlowany, Edgar Silva, Andrew Miller, Mitch Torczon and Kavana Gowda.

    Rice University engineering students have invented a device to separate compostable materials from food waste processed by a garbage disposal. From left, Ryan Yeh, Christina Petlowany, Edgar Silva, Andrew Miller, Mitch Torczon and Kavana Gowda. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

    The students have spent much of the last eight months working in the basement of Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, where they have installed an actual research kitchen – or at least the sink part.

    The project is a partnership with NASA, which has an interest in such devices for outposts on the moon, Mars and beyond, and Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, which pitched Rice on the project and intends to install The BioBlend at its Living Lab, where it will be tested alongside other emerging household technologies. Rice lecturer Matthew Elliott is the team’s faculty adviser.

    “I think one of the major barriers to being eco-friendly in a variety of ways in the United States is people aren’t willing to put in any effort,” said Torczon of the device. “This doesn’t require users to change their behaviors. They can continue putting food down the garbage disposal, and once every couple of days take it out, just like taking out their trash.”

    The difference is The BioBlend produces a moist, finely chopped form of waste that takes less time to turn to compost than regular garbage. Alternately, it can be used to generate biogas.

    “One of the things our sponsors want to see is if they can make the device large enough to put in the basement of an apartment complex or a grocery store or restaurant, places with a ton of food waste,” Torczon said. “They could create a lot of biogas they could then turn around and sell or, if they’re in a restaurant, use themselves.”

    “I think a family of four, using a biogas generator with their waste, would be able to make enough for them to cook with,” Gowda added.

    Mechanical engineering student Andrew Miller makes an adjustment to a prototype of The BioBlend.

    Mechanical engineering student Andrew Miller makes an adjustment to The BioBlend prototype. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

    Whether it’s used for compost or biogas production, the key to The BioBlend’s success will be its ability to keep garbage out of wastewater treatment plants, where it’s not only useless but also costly and complicated to remove.

    The team’s research into separation techniques spanned sewage plants to hand-cranked tabletop devices for making jellies and tomato sauce. What they had in common was a circular strainer with a large screw in the middle that pushes solid waste along while allowing liquid to escape. Their own motor-driven, spring-loaded version has a failsafe to keep unwanted solids like ice from jamming the system.

    A weight sensor tracks how full the bin is, a cutoff switch automatically trips before it overflows and a carbon filter helps quash odors and keep flies away from the compost.

    The team has not ruled out giving The BioBlend Wi-Fi powers to alert users to its status via the Internet, Torczon said. They could just make it beep when full, but the students are wary that annoyed users would simply disconnect it rather than keep with the program.

    The teammates had no problem finding a way to feed their creation. “One of the cool things about the project was digging once a week through the trash in the Rice serveries,” Yeh said.

    “It’s caused me to reevaluate how much food I’m throwing away,” Torczon added. “Our sponsors said at the beginning they hoped it influenced our behavior.”


    About Mike Williams

    Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.
  • Wednesday, March 23, 2016 9:29 AM | Amy Kavalewitz (Administrator)

    Sterile Box offers safer surgeries

    Rice team’s mobile container can sterilize surgical instruments in low-resource settings

    Rice University students and their mentors have created a sterilization station for surgical instruments that can help minimize risk of infections to patients anywhere in the world.

    The station built into a standard 20-foot steel shipping container houses all the equipment necessary to prepare surgical instruments for safe reuse, including a water system for decontamination and a solar-powered autoclave for steam sterilization. Autoclaves are standard in modern hospitals but badly needed in low-resource settings.

    After months of design and construction, Douglas Schuler, an associate professor of business and public policy in Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business, and his team published an article in the open-access journal PLoS ONE detailing trials to validate what they call the Sterile Box.

    They reported the system’s performance was nearly perfect over 61 trials in 2015 to sterilize and prepare a set of instruments for return to the operating room.

    Rice University professors Maria Oden, second from right, and Douglas Schuler, right, give visitors a tour of the Sterile Box prototype. The unit was designed to sterilize and process surgical instruments in low-resource settings.

    Rice University professors Maria Oden, second from right, and Douglas Schuler, right, give visitors a tour of the Sterile Box prototype. The unit was designed to sterilize and process surgical instruments in low-resource settings. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

    The researchers cited studies that show about a third of patients in low-resource settings suffer surgical-site infections, a number nine times higher than in developed countries. These infections are frequently the result of care providers using medical instruments that carry traces of microorganisms or biological material from previous patients.

    Surgical-site infections can lengthen hospital stays and even lead to death, the researchers wrote.

    Schuler and his students have been working to sterilize instruments with sunlight for years. Their first design used a mobile A-frame solar-thermal device, the Capteur Soleil, that focused sunlight to heat a stand-alone autoclave. But the team decided to design a more comprehensive platform in which instruments could be processed day and night.

    Rice Professor Maria Oden, director of the university’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen and a co-author of the article, said rural areas and small cities in developing countries often have medical facilities with improperly maintained or malfunctioning sterilization equipment or no equipment at all. Unreliable power and inadequate quality control over sterilization are also issues, she said.

    “Infection control in the surgical suite really is a big challenge in the developing world,” said Oden, who has seen the challenges firsthand while traveling as part of the Rice 360˚: Institute for Global Health. “I was shocked to learn how many surgeries end up with patients developing some manner of infection.”

    She said the fact that the Sterile Box is a complete drop-in system is significant.

    Rice University Professor Douglas Schuler holds a steam-activated autoclave used to sterilize surgical instruments in the Sterile Box developed at Rice for use in low-resource settings.

    Rice University Professor Douglas Schuler holds a steam-activated autoclave used to sterilize surgical instruments in the Sterile Box developed at Rice for use in low-resource settings. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

    “The box looks at the problem from a complete system level and makes it easy to implement,” she said. “It’s not just a simple device to clean and sterilize the tools, but a way to manage the process.”

    “We tried to really think hard about social context,” Schuler said. “We laid out the elements to minimize human error and water and energy requirements to the extent that we can. I really like that about our design.”

    The Rice team added solar panels and electrical storage to the container, as well as water distribution from two tanks, one on the ground that has a hand pump to move water to a 50-gallon tank on the roof. The interior has two rooms: a foyer that separates the sterile processing area from outsiders and the elements and a main area with a small window to pass instruments in and out.

    Processing is divided into four stations. At the first station technicians decontaminate instruments in a three-basin sink, removing debris and then soaking them in an enzymatic detergent and scrubbing with nylon brushes before a final rinse. At the second station an electric hotplate heats the steam autoclave that sterilizes the instruments. At the third the instruments are dried on wire racks and then moved to the fourth, a storage cabinet where they await the next surgery.

    To keep technicians comfortable, the team incorporated radiant barrier insulation and reflective paint outside and maximized air flow inside with mesh screens over the door and windows, floor vents and two wind-powered turbine fans in the ceiling. A battery pack tied to the solar panels powers outlets for fans and cellphone charging.

    The next step will be to test the Sterile Box in a clinical setting. Schuler is working with Dr. Sharmila Anandasabapathy, director of Baylor Global Initiatives at Baylor College of Medicine, to incorporate the box into the planned deployment of its Smart Pod, a mobile surgical suite also to be housed in a modified shipping container. Baylor expects to test its unit near the Malawi capital of Lilongwe in 2017.

    Schuler said the Sterile Box may be suitable for other medical situations, including maternal and neonatal care, oral health care and postdisaster relief.

    Co-authors of the article are Jean Boubour of Association Soleil-Vapeur, Evreux, France; Rice alumna Katherine Jenson, a research coordinator at Baylor College of Medicine; and Rice undergraduate students Hannah Richter and Josiah Yarbrough.

    About Mike Williams

    Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.
  • Wednesday, January 06, 2016 1:01 PM | Amy Kavalewitz (Administrator)

    Congratulations Team ParkIt!

    The team has been selected by Jaguar Land Rover to company’s inaugural group of about six to receive up to $250K and work from its startup tech incubator in Portland!

    CES 2016: Jaguar Land Rover announces inaugural startups selected for tech incubator
    A capstone project designed by 2015 Rice engineering graduates at Rice's Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen called “ParkiT” is one of the first 3 startups selected to be housed in the Jaguar Land Rover Tech Incubator in Oregon. “ParkiT” is an app that uses sensors and existing security camera infrastructure to alert drivers to open parking spaces.

    Read more on Forbes

  • Monday, November 16, 2015 2:40 PM | Amy Kavalewitz (Administrator)

    Speak Easy team delivers top pitch

    Speak Easy team

    The Speak Easy team of Zichao Wang and Abhipray Sahoo accepts the top prize in the Undergraduate Elevator Pitch Competition. From left, Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship Managing Director Brad Burke, Wang, Sahoo and OEDK Director Maria Oden. Photo by Marilee Dizon

    Seniors win Undergraduate Elevator Pitch competition

    The inventors of a software-based personal trainer to help people prepare for public speaking won the $1,500 first prize in the Undergraduate Elevator Pitch Competition sponsored by Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK) and the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship Nov. 12.

    The Speak Easy team of Zichao Wang and Abhipray Sahoo, both electrical and computer engineering seniors, combined high-tech tools to analyze body language, facial expressions and voice control and simulate a real-world scenario in virtual reality for users.

    Cash prizes went to six teams in all. The second-place prize of $1,000 went to Comfortably Numb: bioengineering students Andy Zhang and Akhil Surapaneni, mechanical engineering majors Matthew O’Gorman and Mike Hua and computer science major Greg Allison.

    The third-place prize of $750 went to Tube Much: bioengineering majors Lisa Sampson, Erin Anderson, Corin Peterson and Ronal Infante.

    Fourth place, for $500, went to OutSENTing: mechanical engineering majors Jon Chen, Valeria Pinillos, Margaret Watkins and Eric Yin, and mechanical engineering major Allen Zhao.

    Fifth place, for $250, went to revIVe: bioengineering majors Joao Ascensao, William Zhu, Paulina Popek and Gabrielle Fatora and kinesiology major Katie Powers.

    The “Most Investable” prize of $750 went to Shell Shock: mechanical engineering majors Courtney Hesse, Jared Elinger, Michael Donatti and Nick Frederking.

  • Tuesday, September 08, 2015 2:45 PM | Amy Kavalewitz (Administrator)

    A bigger, better OEDK


    The Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen introduced its new look at an open house Sept. 2. The facility that opened in 2009 has become so popular that a second expansion was needed over the summer; about 2,000 square feet of space in the basement formerly occupied by Facilities Engineering and Planning was used to add 15 more tables for student projects, as well as new offices and the “innovation lounge” for students. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)


    About Mike Williams

    Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.

Contact us

Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen - Rice University

6100 Main Street MS 390 | Houston, Texas | 77005

Phone: 713.348.OEDK


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