Rice University and Canadian global health design firm Metric Technologies have developed an automated bag valve mask ventilation unit that can be built for less than $300 worth of parts and help patients in treatment for COVID-19. The collaboration expects to share the plans for the ventilator by making them freely available online to anyone in the world.
Faculty and students went into overdrive several weeks ago when requests began pouring into the university seeking plans for an early prototype developed in 2019 by Rice engineering seniors.
That now-alumni team of Madison Nasteff, Carolina De Santiago, Aravind Sundaramraj, Natalie Dickman, Tim Nonet and Karen Vasquez Ruiz, calling themselves Take a Breather, designed and built a programmable device able to squeeze a bag valve mask. These masks are typically carried by emergency medical personnel to help get air into the lungs of people having difficulty breathing on their own. But the masks are difficult to squeeze by hand for more than a few minutes at a time.
Rice University’s Danny Blacker holds a laser-cut part of the ApolloBVM unit created at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. The automated bag valve mask ventilator could help critically ill COVID-19 patients. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
Dr. Rohith Malya, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, an adjunct assistant professor of bioengineering at Rice and associate of the Rice 360° Institute for Global Health and a principal at Metric Technologies, recognized the need to automate the masks not only for emergencies where hospital ventilators are in short supply but also for developing nations where such equipment is not available at all.
The first criterion certainly applies now, with a global shortage of ventilators threatening the population as the novel coronavirus spreads.
Rice administrators, staff and students gathered to see how quickly they could develop a more robust prototype built primarily of 3D-printed and laser-cut parts. Their solution, designed and prototyped within a week, is a reconfiguration of the original rack-and-pinion device and designed to be not only medical grade, but also inexpensive enough to be considered disposable.
The small team worked in the Brown School of Engineering’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK), where the original project came together last spring. The OEDK is usually hopping at this time of year as Rice senior engineering students race to finish their capstone design requirements. With students hunkered down and taking their classes online, the facility provided a quiet refuge for the ApolloBVM team as it worked around the clock to build the device.
The Department of Defense is one of the groups interested in ApolloBVM. The U.S. Navy invited several institutions to submit proposals to develop a low-cost, mechanical ventilation support system that can be rapidly produced with widely available resources.
“This is as simple as it can get, with all readily available parts,” said Danny Blacker, the OEDK’s engineering design supervisor.
Rice University staff, students and partners have developed an automated bag valve mask ventilator unit. Working at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, from left: Dr. Rohith Malya, engineering design technician Fernando Cruz and supervisor Danny Blacker. Photo by Brandon Martin
The prototype uses an Arduino board to facilitate programming that allows users to adjust the rate of air delivery to the lungs of patients depending on their conditions, but the team expects a custom integrated circuit will eventually be available to replace the board at a lower cost. The device will also employ feedback sensors that help fine-tune the flow of air to the lungs, as well as motors of the same type that power 3D printers for hours on end.
In its documentation, the team characterizes ApolloBVM as a “high-acuity limited-operability (HALO) ventilator solution with an a priori design to produce volume- and pressure-cycled ventilation that includes positive end-expiratory pressure and the inclusion of enriched oxygen sources.”
Malya inspired the Rice project two years ago after seeing families try to keep critically ill loved ones at the Kwai River Christian Hospital in Thailand alive by bag-ventilating them for hours on end. He expects the new ApolloBVM to serve that purpose eventually, but the need is now worldwide.
Rice University staffer Fernando Cruz holds a bag valve mask. Rice staff, students and partners have developed an automated bag valve mask ventilator unit that can be built for less than $300 in parts and helps critically ill COVID-19 patients. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
“This is a clinician-informed end-to-end design that repurposes the existing BVM global inventory toward widespread and safe access to mechanical ventilation,” Malya said, noting that more than 100 million bag valve masks are manufactured around the world each year.
“The immediate goal is a device that works well enough to keep noncritical COVID-19 patients stable and frees up larger ventilators for more critical patients,” added Amy Kavalewitz, executive director of the OEDK.
Malya said the name is a tribute to Rice’s history with NASA and President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech kicking off the nation’s efforts to go to the moon.
“This project appeals to our ingenuity, it’s a Rice-based project and it’s for all of humanity,” he said. “And we’re on an urgent timescale. We decided to throw it all on the table and see how far we go.”
Up-to-date details about the project, dubbed the ApolloBVM, and its progress are available here:
By Patrick Kurp
Special to the Rice News
OwlSat, a small research satellite designed by Rice University students to monitor ultraviolet radiation, is set to launch into orbit in 2022.
And the students building OwlSat want everyone at Rice to get behind the project.
“We think of it as a Rice community project,” said Ryan Udell, a junior in mechanical engineering and president of the Rice chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS). “We want the students and faculty to know it’s not just about the group of us who are building the satellite, but about everybody at Rice.”
OwlSat is one of 18 CubeSats selected by NASA to serve as auxiliary payloads on rockets launching from 2021-2023. OwlSat was proposed by the Rice chapter of SEDS and is tentatively slated for liftoff in January 2022.
The satellite will contain sensors to monitor the extreme ultraviolet (EUV) radiation emitted by the sun. Such emissions become more intense during periods of solar flaring and can alter the path of satellites in low-Earth orbit. In the words of the Rice proposal, OwlSat will also monitor the satellite’s orbital velocity and altitude “to characterize how varying EUV values modulate the orbital decay rate of a Low Earth Orbit CubeSat over time.”
“Space is getting crowded,” Udell said. “About 2,200 satellites are already up there. It’s important that we learn where all the space junk is. We don’t want it hitting anyone. UV radiation can have an impact on orbital decay.”
NASA reported that the data collected by OwlSat “will allow for more comprehensive predictions for orbiting bodies, such as space debris and small satellites.” OwlSat will have no propulsion system. Its orbit will decay after roughly one year, and it will burn up when it reenters Earth’s atmosphere.
The satellite must conform to NASA’s CubeSat specifications and measure 10 centimeters on all sides and weigh no more than 0.987 kilograms, about 2.5 pounds. Construction of the satellite is expected to begin this semester.
The project will cost an estimated $45,000, and the Rice SEDS chapter plans a fundraising campaign. Some funding has already come from the George R. Brown School of Engineering, Wiess School of Natural Sciences, Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, the Department of Physics and Astronomy, the Rice Space Institute and Rice Engineering Alumni. NASA will cover the cost of the launch.
Rice students, alumni, faculty and staff can obtain a “Boarding Pass” and their names will be included onboard OwlSat.
SEDS is already planning for the future. Udell expects to graduate next year, and new project leads have taken over. Doug Steinbach, a first-year doctoral student in materials science and nanoengineering, and Eric Yang, a freshman in computer science, are now project leads. Paul Glensky, a sophomore in electrical and computer engineering, had led the team until recently and is largely responsible for the CubeSat Launch Initiative selection.
“You don’t have to be in a STEM field to support the project,” Udell said. “If you’re a history major you can pitch in too.”
– Patrick Kurp is a science writer in the George R. Brown School of Engineering.
Malawi’s national adoption of affordable, rugged, neonatal CPAP technology as a part of routine hospital care resulted in sustained improvements in the survival of babies with respiratory illness, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics.
Malawi, in southeast Africa, has the world’s highest preterm birth rate, with almost 1 in 5 babies born premature. A study conducted at 26 Malawi government hospitals found that the national adoption of rugged, low-cost, neonatal “continuous positive airway pressure” (CPAP) devices improved survival rates from 49% to 55% for newborns admitted with breathing problems. For newborns with severe breathing problems, survival improved from 40% to 48%.
“For babies that had respiratory distress syndrome — these are the tiniest babies that have some of the biggest challenges with breathing — we saw a nearly a 10% improvement in survival after CPAP was available,” said Rice University engineering professor Rebecca Richards-Kortum, the study’s corresponding author and co-director of the Rice 360° Institute for Global Health.
The study involved 2,457 babies born at government hospitals from 2013 to 2016 and was conducted by researchers from the Malawi Ministry of Health, Malawi’s leading medical school and its teaching hospital, and Rice 360°.
Neonatal nurse Florence Mwenifumbo monitors a newborn that is receiving bubble CPAP treatment at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi. (Photo courtesy of Rice 360°/Rice University)
Rice 360° developed the Pumani CPAP machine used in the study and supported the national rollout via a transition-to-scale grant from Saving Lives at Birth, a joint undertaking by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the governments of Norway, the United Kingdom, Canada and South Korea.
Rice 360° co-director Maria Oden said most sub-Saharan hospitals can’t afford to bring on extra nurses or technicians, so it was important to monitor patient outcomes and see if CPAP gains were sustained over years as part of routine hospital care.
“The Malawi rollout was a nurse-led, quality improvement initiative that was directed and sustained by the Malawi Ministry of Health,” Oden said. “They have shown that a low-income country can scale CPAP nationally and see dramatic and lasting improvements in newborn outcomes.”
Lead author Jennifer Carns, a Rice 360° bioengineer and research scientist in Rice’s Brown School of Engineering, said the study also found that babies did not get the full benefit of CPAP if they were too cold.
Rice University bioengineers Maria Oden (second from left) and Rebecca Richards-Kortum (second from right) observe as Malawi College of Medicine pediatrician Josephine Langton (left) speaks with the mother of a baby receiving CPAP therapy at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi in 2016. Oden and Richards-Kortum co-founded the Rice 360° Institute for Global Health, which developed the rugged, low-cost neonatal CPAP machine used at the hospital. (Photo by Brandon Martin/Rice University)
“For infants with normal body temperatures, survival rates were 66% — more than 25% higher than those who were too cold,” Carns said.
While respiratory distress is common among premature babies, so are other conditions like hyperthermia.
“There’s more work to be done,” Richards-Kortum said. “We know for CPAP to have its full potential, it needs to be introduced as part of a quality program that focuses on improving essential newborn care.”
Richards-Kortum is Rice’s Malcolm Gillis University Professor and a 2018 State Department U.S. science envoy for health security. Oden is the director of Rice’s award-winning Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. Richards-Kortum and Oden are each bioengineering professors in Rice’s Brown School of Engineering and co-founders of NEST360°, an international campaign to end preventable newborn deaths in Africa.
Additional co-authors include Sara Liaghati-Mobarhan, Aba Asibon and M.K. Quinn, all of Rice; Alfred Chalira and Norman Lufesi, both of the Malawi Ministry of Health; and Kondwani Kawaza and Elizabeth Molyneux, both of the University of Malawi College of Medicine and the Department of Pediatrics at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi.
HOUSTON – (Aug. 19, 2019) – Why do so few women pursue careers in engineering? A new study from a Rice University researcher will seek to find out by examining their everyday work experiences in the profession.
The project, titled “A Two-Part Project Examining Team Discrimination by Gender in STEM Teams and a Way Forward,” will be funded with a $375,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.
“Gender issues and discrimination are prevalent topics in our world today and particularly in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers,” said Eduardo Salas, a professor specializing in industrial and organizational psychology at Rice and the principal investigator on the study. “Engineering has particularly low numbers of women. We want to find out what factors play a role in this occurrence.”
Rice University researchers will study why so few women pursue careers in engineering by examining their everyday work experiences in the profession. Photo by 123rf.com
Myriad reasons for this problem have already been investigated, Salas said, including pay and promotion opportunities and family-related constraints. Workplace discrimination has also been studied, with research showing women in STEM fields are more likely to face discrimination than women in non-STEM disciplines, he said. But few researchers have focused their attention on the day-to-day experiences of women in engineering.
“While many of the existing studies on workplace discrimination have focused on the individual or the organization, we think that teams may play an overlooked role in women’s experiences in engineering,” Salas said.
Taking a team-centric approach, Salas and his fellow researchers will examine interpersonal discrimination and its impact on how both individuals and teams do their jobs. The project is designed to complete the following three objectives:
The subjects of the study will be college students in an engineering design course. Over the course of a year, the students will fill out regular surveys and performance ratings of their fellow team members. The researchers will evaluate the impact of discrimination on the daily lives and long-term career aspirations of these women.
“In our field, longitudinal, team-level data examining feelings about discrimination doesn’t really exist,” Salas said. “We will change that with this study, as we seek to better understand how team experiences shape the career paths for women in STEM.”
Ultimately, Salas hopes the study will help STEM fields nurture and retain more women.
The research team will include Maria Oden, full teaching professor in the Department of Bioengineering; Matthew Wettergreen, associate teaching professor at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen; Gary Woods, professor in the practice in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Christina Lacerenza, a Rice Psychological Sciences graduate and assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder; and Allison Traylor and Denise Reyes, graduate students in the Rice Department of Psychological Sciences.
Rice University students who invented a device to give patients with intractable epilepsy more freedom to move have won first prize in a student competition at the IEEE International Symposium on Circuits and Systems in Sapporo, Japan.
The Axon Mobile team was invited to compete against four others after being named winner of the North American division. The members — junior Aidan Curtis and seniors Sophia D’Amico, Andres Gomez, Benjamin Klimko and Zhiyang Zhang, all electrical and computer engineering majors at Rice’s Brown School of Engineering — developed an instrument to gather signals from a patient’s brain and send them wirelessly for analysis.
Rice University engineering students who developed a wireless recorder for intracranial epileptic seizure monitoring won the top prize at the IEEE Circuits and Systems Society student design competition in Sapporo, Japan. From left are students Andres Gomez, Aidan Curtis, Benjamin Klimko, Sophia D’Amico, and Zhiyang Zhang, and Joe Cavallaro, a Rice professor of electrical and computer engineering and of computer science. Photo courtesy of Joe Cavallaro
Their goal is to untether patients who, while being monitored for seizures, must now remain bound to a computer that collects data from wires implanted in their brains. Because these patients are not helped by medication, they sometimes have small parts of the brain where seizures originate surgically removed. Data taken during seizures helps doctors pinpoint the location, but the process can take weeks.
Competing teams were from China, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Brazil.
The Rice team was nominated for the Circuits and Systems Society regional competition by faculty members Joseph Cavallaro, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and of computer science, and Gary Woods, a professor in the practice of computer technology and electrical and computer engineering. Cavallaro chairs the Houston chapter of the society and was in Japan with the team.
The students were advised by Dr. Nitin Tandon, a professor of neurosurgery at the McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), and Caleb Kemere, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice. Tracy Volz, a Rice professor in the practice and director of the Engineering Communications Program, coached the team on its presentation.
Cavallaro said the IEEE, Dean Reginald DesRoches, the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering’s Bybee Travel Fund and Tandon funded the students’ travel.
Their presentation was broadcast via Facebook and remains available for viewing here: https://www.facebook.com/ieeecas/videos/336696273709955/
Despite heavy rain, more than 120 people gathered May 7 at the Cohen House to honor retiring Senior Associate Dean of Engineering Bart Sinclair ’73, who has studied, taught or worked at Rice since enrolling as a freshman in 1969.
Rice President David Leebron thanked Bart Sinclair, saying Rice “would not be what it is today” without Sinclair’s dedicated service.
“I feel like I’ve wandered into science fiction,” Rice President David Leebron said to the audience. “Fifty years ago, Bart came to Rice and never emerged. If you’ve seen ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind,’ you know exactly what I’m talking about. But of course, it’s not quite the same, because Bart had such an enormous effect on this university.”
Sinclair earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering in 1973, 1974 and 1979, respectively. He joined the electrical engineering faculty in 1978 and served as associate dean for 20 years, handling responsibilities that at times have included finance, operations, planning, academic affairs and faculty recruitment. Rice’s Board of Trustees twice honored Sinclair’s service, first in 2007 and with its 2017 Distinguished Service Award. He was the inaugural recipient of the Rice Engineering Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Medal in 2012 and is a two-time recipient of distinguished faculty associate honors from Brown College.
Leebron said Mechanical Engineering’s Marcia O’Malley aptly described Sinclair in five words: He’s everywhere and knows everything.
“To which I would add: is liked by everybody,” Leebron said. “To really put all of those three things together, and get things done, is extraordinary.”
“Only Bart could bring out this crowd in this kind of weather,” said Sidney Burrus ’65, a lifelong friend and colleague who, like Sinclair, earned three degrees from Rice and spent his entire career teaching and serving in both the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Brown School of Engineering.
Bart Sinclair ’73 (second from left) said he looks for forward to spending more time with his family after he retires June 30. Since arriving at Rice in 1969, Sinclair earned three degrees, met and married his wife, Diane ’73 (second from right), raised two sons, Stuart ’04 (right) and Andrew ’08 (left), taught for 20 years in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and served 20 years as associate dean of the Brown School of Engineering.
Burrus, one of four deans of engineering for whom Sinclair served as associate dean, said, “His dedication to higher education in general, and to Rice’s version of higher education, in particular, is wonderful. Bart is a great administrator. He has helped many, many faculty in this room achieve things they wanted to achieve.”
Reginald DesRoches, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Engineering, said Sinclair’s experience, wisdom and counsel were invaluable when DesRoches arrived at Rice two years ago.
“One of the hardest things to do in Bart’s position is to transition from one leader to another,” DesRoches said. “You have to learn a new style. You have to adapt to new priorities. You have to educate a new person coming into Rice. Bart did this wonderfully, three times for three different deans, and he played a very critical role in making the transition between deans as seamless as possible.”
DesRoches and others noted Sinclair’s dedication to meeting with prospective students and their families.
“Bart has conducted information sessions for over 6,200 prospective engineering students at the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen,” DesRoches said.
OEDK Executive Director Amy Kavalewicz presented Sinclair two unique, hand-made mementos from her staff: a custom luggage tag and a framed photo of the OEDK staff on the building’s green roof, which Sinclair often visited and had been known to hand-water at times.
Glasscock School of Continuing Studies Dean Robert Bruce showed his appreciation with an offer of free classes. “Call it a hunch, but I think you like this place. So we’re going to set it up so you can take some free classes and continue to hang out here. And when you’re ready, come back and teach for us.”
More than 120 people braved heavy rains May 7 to gather at the Cohen House in honor of Bart Sinclair ’73, who is retiring after a 40-year academic career in the Brown School of Engineering.
Vice President for Finance Kathy Collins lauded Sinclair’s attention to detail and thanked him for the fairness and integrity with which he worked to advance the Brown School’s goals.
“Bart is brainy and admired,” she said, quoting from a list of adjectives that Sinclair’s colleagues and co-workers used to describe him. “Bart is responsive. He’s respectful. He’s thoughtful and thorough. But beyond that, Bart is and was unflappable. I have never ever seen him lose his calm and reason and cool.”
Leebron said Sinclair’s dedication and service both define and embody the Rice spirit.
“At the end of the day, there just aren’t words that can express our appreciation for your contribution,” Leebron said. “The mass of people here for this occasion, I think, is an attempt to convey that. But on behalf of the entire university, past, present and future, I want to express our enormous appreciation and recognition that this university would not be what it is today without you. We are immensely glad that it has taken you 50 years to re-emerge from that place you disappeared. Thank you very, very much.”
Sinclair said the task of cleaning out old files recently reminded him “how fortunate I have been to work with some of the greatest people that I can imagine. Rice is a beautiful campus. It’s got a wonderful reputation. I love the location. But it all comes down to the people that I leave here. And that’s the students, staff, faculty and administration. It has been a joyful ride.”
Sinclair said that in addition to traveling and spending more time with his family, he looks forward to taking Glasscock School classes.
“We’re not moving,” he said. “I look forward to checking in.”
Natalie Dickman squeezed the bag again and again in an effort to revive a victim of cardiac arrest. After a mere 3 minutes, she could squeeze no more.
“The patient had been down for 30 minutes and there wasn’t much hope, unfortunately,” said the Rice University student, a soon-to-be graduate of the Brown School of Engineering, who was covering a shift with Houston EMS as required by a Rice class in emergency medical techniques. “I was allowed to bag, but they make you switch in EMS settings because they know you won’t be as accurate once you hit that 2-to-3-minute mark. You get really tired.”
She thought about that often over the last year when she and her senior teammates worked at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK) to perfect a cost-effective device that automates the compression of manual bag valve masks, which feed fresh air to the lungs of intubated patients.
The senior capstone design team — bioengineering students Dickman, Carolina De Santiago, Karen Vasquez Ruiz and Aravind Sundaramraj, mechanical engineering and computational and applied mathematics student Tim Nonet and mechanical engineering student Madison Nasteff — is known as “Take a Breather.”
Engineering students Natalie Dickman and Aravind Sundaramraj adjust their automated bag valve mask device at Rice University’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
The team has developed a system that compresses the bags for hours, rather than minutes, with settings to feed the right amount of air to adults, children and infants. The device seems simple — a box with paddles that rhythmically squeeze the bulb a programmed amount — but the engineering behind it is not.
The students used a $25, off-the-shelf motor and $5 microcontroller to power and program the rack-and-pinion device made primarily of plastic parts 3D-printed at the OEDK. They hope their use of inexpensive materials and the growing availability of 3D printers will make their machines easy to repair on-site.
They anticipate the device, which cost them $117 in parts to build, will be most useful in low-resource hospitals or during emergencies when there aren’t enough portable ventilators to meet the need.
Dr. Rohith Malya, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, brought the problem to the OEDK after witnessing family members at the Kwai River Christian Hospital in Thailand, where he is director of emergency medical services, squeezing intubation bags for hours on end to keep loved ones alive.
The adjustable bag valve mask device developed by Rice University engineering students has proven able to pump air unassisted for hours on end. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
“There is no reliable ventilation,” said Malya, who spends a month at the hospital every year. “Once we intubate somebody, the family has to bag the patient. But the family will get tired after a day and say, ‘They’re not getting better right now, just pull the tube and see what happens.’ And then the patient dies.”
Malya previously worked with Rice engineering students to develop a syringe regulating pump, and did not hesitate to bring a new idea to the OEDK.
“The bag mask is ubiquitous, like the syringe,” he said. “Nothing has challenged it for 80 years. It’s stood the test of time, it’s reliable and it’s simple. And now we’re adding a modification to the original device so families don’t have to make those decisions.
“This will broaden the access to mechanical ventilation to a tremendous part of the world that doesn’t have typical ventilators,” said Malya, who plans to take the proof-of-concept device to Thailand for field testing next spring.
The device is much smaller than the sophisticated ventilators found in American hospitals and portable versions used in emergency situations. Critically, it has to be able to operate for long stretches. In its most recent test, the team ran the device for more than 11 hours without human intervention.
The students expect another Rice team will build a more robust version next year, and hope it will eventually be manufactured for use in low-resource and emergency settings. They anticipate a better-sealed and filtered box will be more suitable for hot, dusty environments, and said future designs should include more sophisticated controls.
Rice University engineering students developed a bag valve mask compressor to automate the difficult task of feeding fresh air to patients’ lungs, often for hours at a time. From left: Madison Nasteff, Carolina De Santiago, Aravind Sundaramraj, Natalie Dickman, Tim Nonet and Karen Vasquez Ruiz. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
For its efforts this year, the team won two prizes at the school’s annual Engineering Design Showcase, the Willy Revolution Award for Outstanding Innovation and the best interdisciplinary engineering design award. But the real payoff would be seeing the device further developed and deployed around the world.
“If they can get it working fully in that kind of environment, this will be saving lives,” Nasteff said.
The student team at Rice’s Brown School of Engineering created a seemingly simple but sophisticated system to monitor high intracranial pressure (ICP) within the skulls of infants, a condition that affects more than 400,000 every year. ICP can be caused by trauma to the brain and is a marker for hydrocephalus, a buildup of excess cerebral spinal fluid within the brain’s ventricles.
Their Bend-Aid, created in collaboration with Texas Children’s Hospital doctors at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, combines an old-school adhesive bandage with a sensor that has the potential to replace two current techniques: Palpating the child’s soft spot to get a general sense of pressure, or drilling into the skull to insert an accurate but highly invasive sensor.
Rice senior Sammi Lu attaches a sensor to a mannequin to test a noninvasive system designed to monitor intracranial pressure in infants. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
The non-invasive method created by seniors Sammi Lu, Kiara Reyes Gamas, Tensae Assefa, Patricia Thai and Brett Stern allows clinicians to monitor babies for as long as necessary to build a record of intracranial pressure over time that would be impossible to acquire through occasional palpitation.
“What physicians usually do is feel the soft spot where the skull hasn’t fused together yet,” Thai said. “If it’s tense, that’s a sign of higher pressure. If it’s sunken, it’s low pressure. But it’s really subjective between doctors and previous research showed it’s not very accurate.
“There’s a need for a quantitative and continuous method to measure pressure in the skulls of infants, to see changes in ICP over time,” she said.
The team embedded a soft, ribbon-like sensor with a 2.2-inch working length into a bandage that, when affixed to the baby’s head, reports to a data processor when bent in or out by the changing shape of the soft spot, called the fontanelle. The fontanelle generally closes after 18 months as the skull plates fuse.
“From our literature search, we discovered there is a correlation of ICP levels within the skull space and the bending level of the fontanelle,” Lu said. The team used that data to build a mathematical model that correlates the sensor’s bending angle to standard measures of ICP.
A system developed by Rice engineering students is designed to monitor high intracranial pressure within the skulls of infants, a condition that affects more than 400,000 every year. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
The sensor feeds a processing unit that displays the numerical pressure level on an LCD screen. The system also stores data on an external SD card for later interpretation by other medical professionals.
“In actual cases, prolonged levels of ICP are more problematic than random spikes,” Lu said. “So we’ve built in an alarm system through LED lights and a buzzer.”
The bandages are already in common use to dress wounds, Reyes Gamas said. “We tested it,” she said. “We put it on our arms and it stayed on for nine days. It will not come off unless you use ethanol on it. And we didn’t avoid any activities like exercising or showering; it’s pretty stable.
“We also tested the sensor itself to see if there was any change in accuracy over time in ideal conditions,” she said. “We found it was very consistent throughout.”
Dr. Sandi Lam, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Texas Children’s Hospital, and Dr. Vijay Ravindra, a pediatric neurosurgery fellow at Texas Children’s Hospital, worked with the team, who were advised by Sabia Abidi, a postdoctoral teaching fellow of bioengineering at Rice.
Rice University senior bioengineering students created a noninvasive device to monitor intracranial pressure in newborns. From left, Tensae Assefa, Sammi Lu, Kiara Reyes Gamas, Brett Stern and Patricia Thai. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
HOUSTON – (April 22, 2019) – Threading a needle is hard, but at least you can see it. Think about how challenging it must be to thread a screw through a rod inside a bone in someone’s leg.
Rice University seniors at the Brown School of Engineering set out to help doctors simplify the process of repairing fractured long bones in an arm or leg by inventing a mechanism that uses magnets to set things right.
The students who call themselves Drill Team Six chose the project pitched by Rice alumnus Dr. Ashvin Dewan, an orthopedic surgeon at Houston Methodist Hospital, to simplify a procedure by which titanium rods are placed inside broken bones to make them functional once more.
For its efforts, the team won the top prize, the Excellence in Engineering Award, at the school’s annual Engineering Design Showcase.
Rice engineering students have created a device to simplify the insertion of screws that secure metal rods to fractured bones in limbs. The device uses magnetic elements in the rod to guide proper placement of the screws. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
The student team — bioengineering majors Babs Ogunbanwo, Takanori Iida, Byung-UK Kang and Hannah Jackson and mechanical engineering majors Will Yarinsky and Ian Frankel — learned from Dewan that surgeons require many X-rays to locate pre-drilled 5 millimeter holes in the rod. The holes allow them to secure the rod to the bone fragments and hold them together.
The surgery typically requires doctors to insert the long rod with a guide wire inside into the end of the bone, drilling through marrow to align the fractured fragments. With that done, they depend on X-rays, their experience and, if necessary, a bit of trial and error to drill long surgical screws through one side of the bone, thread it through the rod and secure it to the other side.
“We want to reduce the amount of X-rays, the surgeon’s time, the operating room time, the setup time, everything,” Yarinsky said.
The Rice team would make the wire adjacent to the holes magnetic, because neither skin nor bone hinder a magnetic field.
Takanori Iida, left, and Byung-UK Kang, senior engineering students at Rice University, work on the electronics test bed used to design the device. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
“That way, the magnets hold their position and we can do the location process,” Frankel said. “Once we’ve found them and secured the rod, we remove the wire and the magnets with it.”
The exterior mechanism is a brace that can be securely attached to the arm or leg with Velcro. A mounted sensor can then be moved along the stiff, 3D-printed carbon-fiber rods or around the limb until it locates the magnet. Then, the angle of the sensor can be adjusted. As each of the three degrees of freedom come into alignment with the target, a “virtual LED” lights up on a graphic display wired to the sensor. Then, the sensor is removed and a drill keyed to the mechanism inserted.
“We do the angular part because the rod is not in the center of the leg, and the hole is not necessarily perpendicular to the surface,” Yarinsky said. “The rod is about 10 to 20 millimeters thick and has a hole on one side and a hole on the other. We don’t want to hit the first hole at an angle where we miss the second and don’t go all the way through.”
Working at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK), the team tested its device on a mannequin leg and what it called a “wooden leg,” a frame that allowed for mounting the rod with its magnetized wire and checking the accuracy of their system.
Before it can be used by clinicians, the team said the device will require Food and Drug Administration approval.
Hannah Jackson and Will Yarinsky, senior engineering students at Rice University, make an adjustment to their device to help doctors secure rods that keep fractured bones in alignment as they heal. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
“I’m very impressed with what the team put together,” said Dewan, who earned a bioengineering degree at Rice in 2005. “Where we ended up is completely different from what we imagined, but kudos to these guys. They went through many different proposals and ideas and ended up running with the one that seemed most promising.”
Having been through the senior capstone process at Rice himself, Dewan was particularly impressed with how the program has grown.
“The OEDK got off the ground a few years after I graduated, and at that point, senior design projects were isolated to individual projects,” Dewan said. “I didn’t work with mechanical or other engineering disciplines.
“I love the way they have a multidisciplinary approach to tackling problems,” he said. “I think it’s much more of a real-world experience for them.”
Sabia Abidi, a lecturer in bioengineering, served as the team’s adviser, and it was sponsored by Chuck and Sharon Fox.
Drill Team Six, from left, won the top prize in the Brown School of Engineering Design Showcase for its invention of a device to help doctors secure rods that keep fractured bones in alignment as they heal. From left, Hannah Jackson, Takanori Iida, Will Yarinsky, Babs Ogunbanwo, Ian Frankel and Byung-UK Kang. (
When heavy rains come, as they inevitably do, it will be helpful for homeowners to know when a surge of floodwater is heading their way.
A team of senior engineering students at Rice University is working to make that technology real. They are developing a real-time, web-enabled system to monitor flood levels throughout a municipality like Houston, which has suffered three damaging floods in recent years, topped by the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.
The students have developed a set of wireless stations that communicate with a base to report on flooding at their locations. The stations have several components: A solar-powered wireless transmitter that can ride high atop a utility pole, with a rubber conduit that stretches down the side and connects the station to a water-level rain gauge and pressure sensor, and software developed by the students that gathers data sent by the remote stations and reports on what they see.
A set of sensors spread throughout a city can provide authorities with the information they need to respond to a flood in progress. Initially, the sensor nodes are set to report local conditions every five minutes, but that can be adjusted as needed, according to the team.
Naturally, Houston is interested. For that reason, the Houston Solutions Lab, a partnership between Rice’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research and the city of Houston, is sponsoring the initiative being developed as a senior capstone project at the university’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. Rice alumna Joan Gurasich ’68 is also a sponsor.
The students will demonstrate their work at the annual George R. Brown School of Engineering Design Showcase, at which more than 80 teams will compete for thousands of dollars in prizes. The event will be open to the public from 4:30 to 7 p.m. April 11 at Rice’s Tudor Fieldhouse.
Alfonso Morera, an electrical and computer engineering senior at Rice University, wires a control box at the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. The box is one component of a wireless flood monitoring system designed and built by students in collaboration with the City of Houston. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
Senior members of the team – Alexandra Du, Alex Kaplan, Neil Seoni, Alfonso Morera and Kevin Wu – are all electrical and computer engineering majors, and are being advised by Gary Woods, a Rice professor in the practice of computer technology and electrical and computer engineering.
To some degree, Du said, the system mimics that developed by Rice’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education & Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center to monitor flood levels along Houston’s bayous, but with much less expensive, off-the-shelf components.
Along with the software, the students designed and built several simple PC boards to connect sensors and solar cells to battery packs and a wireless transmitter. But in total, each station shouldn’t cost more than a few hundred dollars, including waterproof casing to protect the electronics – and less if the product is someday made in bulk quantities.
“The individual sensors store and send information to a central location using radio, and that location will then parse through and send the data off through a cellular connection,” Du said. “We can then get that from any web interface.”
Du has a personal stake in the project, as her family’s home in Katy, Texas, was flooded during Harvey.
“Our goal is not so much to measure rainfall, because that’s tracked a lot,” she said. “We are much more interested in water levels on the streets and the movement of that water.”
“We hope this will help tell first responders where there’s the most need and how to allocate their resources effectively,” Morera added.
Woods said the project started when two Rice professors, civil engineer Leonardo Dueñas-Osorio and computer scientist Devika Subramanian, looked in vain for commercial versions of what the students have developed for their own projects. “That’s when we decided to make this a senior design project,” he said.
A team of Rice University students have developed an inexpensive flood monitoring system that can be deployed around a city to help first responders anticipate trouble spots during extreme weather. Members are, from left, adviser Gary Woods and students Justin Bryant, Alexandra Du, Alfonso Morera, Neil Seoni, Alexander Kaplan, Nicholas Lester, Jerry Lin and Kevin Wu. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
Woods said there’s no reason the proof-of-concept can’t be scaled up. “Houston might want to have thousands of these,” he said. “This is all based on ‘internet of things‘ technology, which is getting cheaper all the time.”
The students plan to have a small set of sensors set up around campus by the end of the spring semester, and hope to deploy a larger set in a Houston neighborhood prone to flooding, like Meyerland, over the summer.
The project won’t end there, Woods said. It’s important enough to Rice’s Vision for the Second Century, Second Decade to rise to the level of a Vertically Integrated Project (VIP), signifying projects that require several years to complete and allow for mentorship between faculty, seniors and underclassmen. Accordingly, the three underclassmen who are part of the project — sophomore Nicholas Lester, Jerry Lin and Justin Bryant — will be expected to carry it forward over the next few years.
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