News and Announcements

  • Wednesday, May 06, 2015 12:05 PM | Amy Kavalewitz Dern (Administrator)

    Monkey see puzzle, monkey do, monkey eat

    Editor’s note: Links to images for download appear at the end of this release.

    David Ruth

    Mike Williams

     Rice engineering students develop enrichment device for Houston Zoo primates

    HOUSTON – (May 5, 2015) – Naku grabs the box hanging from a line and turns and shakes and turns and shakes. He has to work for his food, at least the good stuff.

  • Wednesday, May 06, 2015 11:57 AM | Amy Kavalewitz Dern (Administrator)

     Rice University students produce energy from movement of leg brace

    Editor’s note: Links to images for download appear at the end of this release.

    David Ruth

    Mike Williams

    HOUSTON – (April 30, 2015) – Rice University engineering students have created an energy-generating knee brace that they hope may someday help power artificial hearts.

    The device is a modified medical brace that generates power with every bend of the knee. The electricity produced by a motor attached to the joint of the brace is funneled into a battery, but someday may go straight back into one’s body.

    The brace produces 4 watts of energy as the wearer walks and feeds it to a lithium-ion battery pack.

    That’s not quite enough power for the artificial heart being developed by the students’ sponsors, Omar Kabir and John Bartos of Houston company Cameron International, which brought the energy-harvesting project to Rice. But the team collectively known as Farmers, the third to take on the multiyear project that started with a shoe-based generator, has pushed the technology significantly forward.

    “We added a power conversion and storage system that was not present in the device at the beginning of this year,” said Hutson Chilton, a bioengineering major who also studies sustainability issues. “So we’re getting about the same power output, but we’re also able to convert it to direct current and store that into something useful.”

    She was joined by an electrical engineering major, Taylor Vaughn, and three mechanical engineering majors, Adrian Bizzaro, Sean LaBaw and Chase Gensheimer. LaBaw is a junior; the others are seniors.

    The brace is comfortable enough to wear for long periods, said Gensheimer, who has done most of the road testing, including stretches on a treadmill. “We had a previous design to build on, but we tried to make it lighter and easier to wear and move in.”

    “We went through a very long process to get where we are today,” Vaughn added.

    LaBaw said it was a challenge to reduce the mechanism and its casing to reasonable proportions while also reducing friction from the moving parts. “We didn’t want somebody walking with a motor 6 inches off the knee and running into tables,” he said.

    The team expects a future version to supply energy wirelessly to medical devices.

    The team’s adviser is Steven Rickman, an adjunct professor of mechanical engineering, with assistance from course professors Gary Woods, a Rice professor in the practice of computer technology and electrical and computer engineering; Fathi Ghorbel, professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering; and Eric Richardson, a lecturer in the Department of Bioengineering.


    Watch a video about the project at

    Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews

    Related Materials:

    Farmers website:

    George R. Brown School of Engineering:

    Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen:

    Prototype provides pedestrian power:

    Images for download:

    The energy-harvesting device invented by Rice University students amplifies the motion of a knee as it bends. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)


    The Farmers team of Rice University engineering students, from left: Taylor Vaughn, Sean LaBaw, Chase Gensheimer, Hutson Chilton and Adrian Bizzaro. The students worked on the development of a leg brace that captures energy from human motion. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)


    Rice University engineering student Chase Gensheimer takes a walk with a power-generating knee brace. The invention by Rice students charges a battery pack but they hope it will lead to a device that will charge artificial hearts. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)


    The energy-harvesting device invented by Rice University students amplifies the motion of a knee as it bends. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

  • Wednesday, April 29, 2015 9:27 AM | Amy Kavalewitz Dern (Administrator)

    Students use smarts for damaged hearts

    Mike Williams
    April 29, 2015Posted in: Current News

    Rice University seniors create smartphone app to connect heart patient, pump, doctor

    A smartphone app created by students at Rice University may someday serve as the ultimate remote to help control the flow of blood through human hearts.

    The Flowtastic team of Rice senior engineering students created a combined software-hardware interface that works with an Android app to monitor and even control a high-tech pump that resides in the aorta and regulates the flow of blood.

    The circulatory assist pump called Aortix was invented by Houston-based Procyrion, which is is seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration to use it as a minimally invasive solution for heart-failure patients.

    “It’s for that in-between phase when medication might not be enough and you don’t want to go and get a super-invasive surgery where they have to cut your chest open,” said Rice bioengineering student Benjamin Lopez. “We don’t want you to get to that very severe state and there’s nothing really out there for you right now.” As many as 2.6 million patients could benefit from such a device, according to the company.

    Smartphone-enabled controls to a heart assist pump

    Rice University engineering students have added smartphone-enabled controls to a heart assist pump developed by a Houston medical device company. The Flowtastic team's software and hardware would allow doctors to monitor their patients remotely and even adjust the pump speed. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

    The six-member Rice team also includes bioengineering students Alex Bisberg and Joshua Choi and electrical engineering students Tracy Fu, Navaneeth Ravindranath and Ernest Chan. Their advisers are Gary Woods, a professor in the practice of computer technology and electrical and computer engineering, and Eric Richardson, a lecturer in bioengineering. They are also working with Tanner Songkakul, a product development engineer at Procyrion who earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Rice in 2014.

    The students have been working at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen with a Procyrion prototype, a stent attached to a tiny but powerful pump that can be inserted into the patient’s aortic vessel to assure that blood keeps flowing at the proper rate to the heart.

    The Rice team’s contribution gives doctors a way to monitor the device’s performance and make adjustments when necessary, reducing the heart’s workload and helping it heal.

    “Our goal has been to make a holistic and integrated system that allows the patient to connect with the doctor and also connect with their device,” Bisberg said. The Rice team built hardware that plugs into the Procyrion controller and also communicates wirelessly with the Android app. They expect the company will combine the hardware components into a single unit that the patient will carry.

    Standing from left: Navaneeth Ravindranath, Ernest Chan, Alex Bisberg and Benjamin Lopez, and seated, Tracy Fu and Joshua Choi

    The Flowtastic team, standing from left, Navaneeth Ravindranath, Ernest Chan, Alex Bisberg and Benjamin Lopez, and seated, Tracy Fu and Joshua Choi. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

    Bisberg said patients will be asked to enter their weight into the app every day. That information will automatically go to the doctor’s database. “Weight is a key factor in managing heart failure,” he said. “When the heart isn’t working well, the patient’s body tends to retain fluid.

    “We want to be able to get a higher fluid-clearance rate from their bodies by accelerating blood flow to the kidneys and getting the liquid out of their systems.”

    If a patient gains too much weight too quickly, the app would notify the doctor, according to team members. They expect the doctor will be able to adjust the pump as necessary either remotely or by plugging directly into the external electronics.

    “A change in weight would trigger an email to tell the doctor what’s going on,” Chan said. “That way the doctor only has to look at that data when needed.”

    Unique electronics

    The students' unique electronics plug into the heart assist pump controller. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

    “We spoke to a lot of cardiologists at the Texas Heart Institute and a lot of them said this technology’s great, but it would be really nice if they could only be notified when there’s really a need for them to go in and check,” Choi said.

    The system should be a great help to people who can still lead an active lifestyle, he said. “They’re not sedentary,” Chan said. “They can go out and live their lives and we can hold back the progression of the disease and prevent bad things from happening.”

    While the team members will leave their project behind when they graduate in May, they said what they’ve invented may be adapted to work with hardware that monitors glucose levels or pacemakers.

  • Tuesday, April 28, 2015 9:30 AM | Amy Kavalewitz Dern (Administrator)

    Rice concrete canoe team finishes seventh


    The Rice University concrete canoe team finished seventh in a field of 17 in the regional Texas-Mexico leg of the National Concrete Canoe Competition (NCCC), sponsored annually by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).  

    “We placed fourth in oral presentation. Our team had the fewest members out of all the teams. Next year we want to practice more, and I think we’ll end up doing better. Sagittarius did pretty well,” said team co-captain Jackie Zhao, a junior in civil and environmental engineering (CEE), referring to the name of the team’s canoe.

    concretecanoe01 The competition was held April 24-25 at Lamar University in Beaumont. The first-place finisher was the team from Texas A&M University, which will move to the national finals June 20-22 at Clemson University, June 20-22, in Clemson, S.C. The winner of the NCCC finals will receive a $5,000 scholarship and a trophy.

    concretecanoe03The other Rice team members are Jason Bui and Ricky Chen, undeclared freshmen; Ray Buttgen, freshman in CEE; Lori Ding, team co-captain and sophomore in CEE; and Thais Merlo, Thais Milhomem and Zoe Wu, seniors in CEE.

    concretecanoe02Since last August, the team has met at least once a week in the Ryon Engineering Lab. Their faculty adviser is Jamie Padgett, associate professor of CEE, and the team received assistance from Daniel Neumann, the CEE staff technician.

    In 2010, after more than 10 years of non-participation, the Rice team placed second in the regional competition. The national winner last year was the team from the University of Nevada at Reno.

    –Patrick Kurp, Engineering Communications

  • Friday, April 24, 2015 9:34 AM | Amy Kavalewitz Dern (Administrator)

    Junior and senior classes honor engineering’s Ann Saterbak with Salgo Award

    Arie Passwaters – April 24, 2015Posted in: Current News

    Rice’s junior and senior classes have named Ann Saterbak a favorite professor, bestowing upon her Rice’s oldest teaching award: the Nicolas Salgo Distinguished Teacher Award. Created in 1966, the award is funded by the Salgo-Noren Foundation.

    Ann Saterbak

    Ann Saterbak

    Saterbak, associate dean of engineering education and a professor in the practice of bioengineering education, has won national and university recognition for her innovative and effective classroom approaches to problem-solving and engineering design..

    For 16 years, she has developed and taught undergraduate engineering courses. In 2011, she launched Introduction to Engineering Design, a popular design course for freshmen that challenges them to come up with practical solutions to real-world problems.  She often she hears student say they signed up for the course because they want to use power tools and other equipment in the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK).

    “I think there is some truth to that, because the resources at the OEDK are really fantastic,” Saterbak said. “However, I also think that engineering students are looking for opportunities to work on authentic and meaningful projects.”

    Since it is a client-based course, students are working to create a design solution for community members with a real need, she explained.

    “To solve these challenges, students apply their STEM knowledge in creative ways,” said Saterbak. “That’s fun!”

    The Salgo Award holds special significance for Saterbak. Since most of her students are freshmen and sophomores, it means they valued their experiences enough to recall them as voting juniors and seniors.

    Similarly, Saterbak’s most resonating teaching moments are when students make a breakthrough in understanding a system.

    “This could look like having an ‘aha!’ moment, getting something to work or realizing that something won’t work,” she said. “In Bioengineering Fundamentals, breakthroughs can be a revision of a model; in Introduction to Engineering Design, breakthroughs can look like getting a critical component in the design to work or realizing that a different solution is needed.”

    Saterbak said she also “deeply” enjoys working with teams who commit to finishing projects.

    “Through these experiences, I see students develop grit and resilience, which I feel are important skills in life,” Saterbak said. “Also, I am able to really get to know these students in a long-term mentoring relationship.”

    In February, Saterbak was elected to the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering’s College of Fellows for her significant contributions to biomedical engineering education. She is also a fellow of the American Society of Engineering Educators and a fellow of the Biomedical Engineering Society.

    Saterbak has received the Robert G. Quinn Award (2007) and the Theo Pilkington Outstanding Educator Award (2013) from the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), the George R. Brown Prize for Excellence in Teaching (2011) and the George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching (2013) and the Department of Bioengineering Teaching Award (2012).

    inShareEmail Tags: awards, Teaching

    About Arie Passwaters

    Arie Wilson Passwaters is a Web editor in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs. - See more at:

  • Thursday, April 23, 2015 9:10 AM | Amy Kavalewitz Dern (Administrator)

    Modular furniture is conceived for the moon, Mars and in between

    Mike Williams

    Have a seat and mind the gravity.

    A team of Rice University students had to think a lot about that in recent months as they designed furniture intended for use on the moon, Mars and whatever other far-flung destinations humanity may consider in the future.

    At the behest of NASA, a team of five seniors in mechanical engineering designed and assembled a prototype chair and table meant to give maximum flexibility to astronauts in space or for habitats in places other than Earth.

    Flexible chair for astronauts

    Rice engineering students have designed a flexible chair for space habitats. Along with a custom, adjustable table, the prototypes are intended to present ideas for both space-bound astronauts and future habitats. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

    The furniture could serve many functions in environments where maximum flexibility with a minimum of fuss are a plus. The Lunar Lounger team assembled the pieces at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen as its capstone project. Capstone projects are required of most of the university’s senior engineering students.

    “You’re going to have very limited space, so you can’t just send any furniture up,” said team member Laura Blumenschein. “And then you’ve got the partial gravity.” (Roughly one-sixth of Earth’s gravity on the moonone-third on Mars.)

    “In addition to changing how humans interact with the furniture, it’s a lot easier for astronauts to stand and work,” she said. That requires tables, in particular, to easily adjust for both standing and seated work.

    The team of Blumenschein, Archit Chaba, Rey Amendola, Alex Schmidt and Dan Peera also had to consider gravity while balancing weight and strength requirements.

    “We can make our furniture a lot lighter, a lot less strong (than Earth-bound designs),” Blumenschein said. “That sounds like a bad thing, but if you’re trying to reduce weight, that’s a good thing when you’re sending things to space.”

    The chair and table pack flat for shipping and are designed for maximum adjustability. “The largest pieces are the foam pads,” Schmidt said. The table sits on gas springs for easy height adjustment, and connection ports allow it to be paired with other tables. The chair fits users between 5 feet and 6 feet 2 inches tall “because astronauts come in all sizes,” Peera said.

    Both the chair and table are meant to be floor-mounted to keep them stable in low gravity and the chair has pin-and-hole mechanisms to adjust it for use as a traditional seat or a back chair with a knee rest. Restraining footrests allow for use in zero-gravity environments, the students said.

    Team photo: standing from left: Laura Blumenschein, Alex Schmidt, Archit Chaba and Rey Amendola. Seated, Daniel Peera.

    The Lunar Lounger team, standing from left: Laura Blumenschein, Alex Schmidt, Archit Chaba and Rey Amendola. Seated, Daniel Peera. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

    The team members’ learning curve involved a study of their own habits. “We did a lot of brainstorming and research and kept a furniture journal, where we wrote about every piece of furniture we encountered for a week,” Chaba said. “So, for a couch, or a table, or a bed, we thought about each one and its design points.

    “It was really interesting because we started thinking about furniture in an entirely different manner,” he said.

    “Part of our mission requirement was to focus on the daily activities of the astronauts and not their sleep habits or anything like that,” Amendola said. “When we thought about what astronauts do every day and what kind of furniture they need, we narrowed down the scope of the project to chairs for sitting and tables for working, relaxing or for mealtimes.”

    They got extensive help from NASA representatives, including advisers Nancy Currie, an astronaut and engineer with four space shuttle missions to her credit, and her engineering colleague Christie Sauers. “Step by step, they were there with us for the whole process,” Amendola said.

    Schmidt said Currie helped gather opinions from a number of astronauts about what would be most useful in space.

    “Ultimately, we’re just brainstorming the first prototypes,” Peera said. “Hopefully they’ll take this design and experiment further to finalize it and eventually get it up into orbit.”

    NASA and ConocoPhillips sponsored the project.

  • Wednesday, April 22, 2015 9:16 AM | Amy Kavalewitz Dern (Administrator)

    Gamers feel the glove from Rice engineers

    Student team creates feedback device for the hand for virtual environments

    Rice University engineering students are working to make virtual reality a little more real with their invention of a glove that allows a user to feel what they’re touching while gaming.

    The Hands Omni glove developed at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen will provide a way for gamers and others to feel the environments they inhabit through the likes of three-dimensional heads-ups displays.

    The prototype glove introduced at the George R. Brown School of Engineering Design Showcase and developed with sponsor Virtuix, a Houston gaming technology company, is intended to provide force feedback to the fingertips as players touch, press or grip objects in the virtual world.

    Kevin Gravesmill demonstrates the Hands Omni glove

    Engineering student Kevin Gravesmill demonstrates the Hands Omni glove created at Rice University for virtual reality gaming systems at the annual Engineering Design Showcase. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

    “What we’ve made is a glove that uses air to inflate bladders underneath your fingers, so you can hook this up to a video game and when you reach out and grab a virtual object, it feels like you’re actually grabbing that object,” said mechanical engineering student Thor Walker.

    Other members of the team are mechanical engineering students Kevin Koch, Kevin Gravesmill and Yi Ji and electrical engineering students Marissa Garcia and Julia Kwok. All are seniors with the exception of Kwok, who is a junior. Their faculty advisers are Fathi Ghorbel, professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering, and Marcia O’Malley, professor of mechanical engineering and computer science. The project won the “People’s Choice” award at Rice’s recent Engineering Design Showcase.

    The glove (right-handed only at the moment) is designed to be as unobtrusive as possible, and is wireless to allow the player a full range of motion without having to worry about cables.

    The fingers feel pressure from bladders in the glove’s fingertips that expand and contract as necessary. The team’s agreement with its sponsor means the glove’s underlying technology must remain under wraps, but they say programmers should find it fairly simple to implement the glove’s protocols into their games and other projects.

    Members of the Hands Omni team, clockwise from bottom left: Kevin Koch, Thor Walker, Yi Ji, Kevin Gravesmill, Julia Kwok and Marissa Garcia.

    The fingers are individually addressable, though pressure on the ring and little fingers is triggered as one unit in the prototype. “It’s not very often you pick something up with just your pinkie,” Garcia said.

    The entire glove weighs around 350 grams, light enough to keep the player from noticing it, even after a while. “We had our own constraints based on testing to determine the amount of perceptible weight that could be strapped to your fingers, arms, legs and limbs — the maximum weight that is perceptible to users — and we came up with 660 grams on the forearm and much less than that on the back of the hand or on the fingers,” Koch said.

    “We wanted as much mass as far back on the hand as possible, and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” he said. “The user will hardly know it’s there.”


    About Mike Williams

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

  • Thursday, April 16, 2015 9:32 AM | Amy Kavalewitz Dern (Administrator)

    Rice Solar Car almost takes Detroit


    The Rice Solar Car Team came as close as possible to winning their division of the Shell Eco-Marathon Americas 2015 without actually winning or even quite completing the final lap.

    “We finished 6.8 of the seven laps. About 150 yards from the finish line we lost our drive chain. The judges said we would have won if that hadn’t happened. Our fuel efficiency was the equivalent of over 900 miles per gallon,” said Nathan Bucki, a sophomore in mechanical engineering (MECH) and president of the Rice Solar Car Team.

    solarcar02Bucki and 13 teammates competed against six other teams in the urban concept/battery-electrical division of the annual competition, held April 9-12 in Detroit. More than 1,000 students from 113 high schools and universities in five countries (U.S., Brazil, Canada, Guatemala and Mexico) competed to build vehicles that could travel furthest on the least amount of fuel.

    Team members who attended the competition in Detroit with Bucki were: Juan Borbon (the team’s driver), David Chan, Kurt Ko, Andrew Markam, Adam McMullen, Ivan Tanakov, seniors in MECH; Zihe Huang, senior in electrical and computer engineering; Ben Lewis, senior in physics; Amelia Bian, Luke Daniels, Allen Zhao, sophomores in MECH; Philip Taffet, sophomore in computer science and mathematics; Mike Hua, freshman in MECH.

    The team was plagued with mechanical problems, requiring installation of a new gearbox and motor. “The whole weekend was solid work on the car,” Bucki said. “People were sleeping, like two hours a night.”

    solarcar01The rules for the race have become increasingly stringent, Bucki said. On the first day, the Rice team was delayed because of its failure to pass a technical inspection, which required them to adjust their safety harness, eliminate all play in the steering and trim part of the body to allow for more ground clearance.

    To qualify, each team was required to complete seven laps of the 0.9-mile course on city streets in Detroit in less than 25 minutes. The overall winning entry in the gasoline-fueled prototype category, from the University of Toronto, achieved the equivalent of 3,421 miles per gallon.

    “I think we learned that we’ve got to start earlier and we’ve got to expect problems along the way. I’m not even really a car guy, but I learned something about what it means to be an engineer,” Bucki said.

    The Rice Solar Car Team is sponsored by the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, the departments of mechanical and electrical and computer engineering at Rice, the office of the dean of engineering, the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership, DS Solidworks and Maxon Precision Motors.

    –Patrick Kurp, Engineering Communications

  • Thursday, April 16, 2015 9:14 AM | Amy Kavalewitz Dern (Administrator)

    D.R.A.D.I.S. wins Engineering Design Showcase


    Galen Schmidt, Jeremy Hunt, faculty adviser Gary Woods and Spencer Kent

    Team D.R.A.D.I.S. was the big winner at Rice's annual Engineering Design Showcase on April 16. The team -- from left, Galen Schmidt, Jeremy Hunt, faculty adviser Gary Woods and Spencer Kent -- won the top prize for Excellence in Engineering and one of two Willy Revolution prizes for its project to develop an advanced driver assistance system to help avoid collisions. Photo by An Le/Luxe Studio Productions

    Team D.R.A.D.I.S. was a double winner at the annual George R. Brown School of Engineering Design Showcase at Rice University for its development of a dynamic radar and digital imaging system to help drivers avoid accidents.

    The competition held at Rice’s Tudor Fieldhouse April 16 featured the designs of 88 teams of engineering students who competed for nearly $20,000 in prizes.

    The D.R.A.D.I.S. team of Rice seniors Galen Schmidt, Spencer Kent and Jeremy Hunt, all electrical engineering majors (though Schmidt has a second major in computer science), took the top prize of $5,000 for Excellence in Engineering as well as one of two Willy Revolution Awards for Innovation in Engineering Design. The second prize brought them an additional $3,000.

    “It’s unreal! Really cool,” Hunt said. “I’m glad we put all the work in that we did.”

    “Galen said when we won the first award (the Willy Revolution), ‘OK, that’s it! That’s great! We won a major award,’” Kent added. “We did everything we hoped to achieve.” The project was sponsored by the Rice Integrated Systems and Circuits Laboratory directed by Aydin Babakhani, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

    A second Willy Revolution Award for $5,000 went to Team DermaShift.

    Prizes of $1,000 went to teams for:

    Excellence in Freshman Engineering Design: Comfortably Numb.

    Excellence in Underclassman, Multi-Year or Club Engineering Design: RiceX.

    Excellence in Capstone Engineering Design (2): Sith Putter; ESP.

    A prize of $750 was awarded for:

    Best Interdisciplinary Engineering Design: IncuBaby.

    Prizes of $500 went to teams in the following categories:

    Best Conceptual or Computational Modeling Engineering Design: Charles Ho.

    Best Technology for Low-Resource Settings Design: Club EWB Nicaragua No. II.

    Best Energy-Related Engineering Design: Team BubbleGHUM.

    Best Medical Device Technology: r.ARM.

    Best Environment and Sustainability Engineering Design: Electric Avenue.

    Best Computational Technologies for Health and Wellness Design: Team Aura.

    Best Gaming, Creative or Innovative Technology: Holster Hotshots.

    Best Aerospace or Transportation Technology: Runway Boys.

    People’s Choice: Hands Omni.

    The annual public event put on by the George R. Brown School of Engineering and the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen features senior capstone design and other projects by Rice undergraduates. Read about all the participating teams at

  • Tuesday, April 14, 2015 9:22 AM | Amy Kavalewitz Dern (Administrator)
    Making injections less painful

    If the Rice University freshmen on the engineering design team Comfortably Numb have it their way, children will be less fearful and feel less pain when they go to the doctor’s office for a shot.

    The trio of freshmen has created a device to ease the pain of an injection. Their device numbs the skin prior to a shot by producing a rapid chemical reaction to cool the patient’s skin.

    The team, made up of computer science major Greg Allison, bioengineering major Andy Zhang and mechanical engineering major Mike Hua, currently has a functioning prototype that has shown to produce a measurable numbing effect in 60 seconds, which in turn reduces the pain from an injection.

    “Our (lab) device is 3-D-printed and consists of two sealed chambers containing the chemical ammonium nitrate and water,” Hua said. “A simple twisting motion moves the chambers into alignment to allow the chemicals to flow through the chamber to produce a rapid endothermic reaction. We then numb the skin by contacting the device’s metal surface to the patient’s skin.”

    The team said that current solutions are either ineffective, because they don’t numb well enough, or they take too long. The team noted that a commonly used medicated topical patch takes about an hour to work. “Our solution works on the order of seconds and minutes,” Zhang said.

    “We are targeting anyone who has to get an injection, which is nearly everyone,” Allison said.  ”But the device is especially applicable to people who are more susceptible to pain,” such as the elderly and children, he said. He also said it’s intended for use during procedures “where you have to get shots in more sensitive areas of the body, such as the face or the groin.”

    The team also recognized that other applications of this project could be ear piercings, swelling reduction and tattooing, although they are currently not addressing them at this phase.

    “We looked into all sorts of methods for numbing, both quick and long-term, chemicals, using ice packs — which is similar to what we’re using now,” Hua said. “We explored everything that surrounded the problem before we even began brainstorming.”

    “At the end of the day, what we’re creating is a self-contained device with a very cold contact surface, and there are many applications for that,” Allison said.

    “At the end of the day, what we’re creating is a self-contained device with a very cold contact surface, and there are many applications for that,” Allison said.

    Some of the solutions the team researched were very technical and required a materials science degree or skills the freshmen hadn’t yet learned. “That’s kind of the amazing thing about our project because we don’t have these incredibly refined skills in certain areas; that meant that we had to think of very simple solutions,” Allison said. “Being limited in that way led to something that is very novel and innovative but at the same time simple and elegant.

    The team designed the device to be single-use rather than reusable because cleaning it for each use and resetting the device would be cumbersome for a nurse, and injections are such a common procedure that it’s much easier to have a single-use device.

    “We’ve done simulated trials where we basically hold a pen up against a ruler and press down 5 millimeters — we know what that feels like — apply the device, press it down 5 millimeters again and gauge based on the comparative pain scale, which is something hospitals already use, ” Allison said.

    “The materials that we use are relatively inexpensive and found in abundance:  plastic, rubber and metal,” Zhang said. “The materials for one of these cost about a quarter, and then we just had to do estimates based on how much manufacturing would cost. We compared our device to similar things already in production, and we’ve estimated the cost at about $2.”

    Comfortably Numb was guided through its design project in Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen in the fall semester by Ann Saterbak, Bioengineering’s director of laboratory instruction, and in the spring semester by Jane Grande-Allen, the Isabel C. Cameron Professor of Bioengineering.

    “We meet with Dr. Grande-Allen every Tuesday,” Zhang said. “We show her our progress and bounce ideas off of her. A lot of our ideas came from our discussions with her.”

    “We meet with Dr. Grande-Allen every Tuesday,” Zhang said. “We show her our progress and bounce ideas off of her. A lot of our ideas came from our discussions with her, especially the use of chemicals. She actually let us into her lab and had her graduate students help us create these (chemical) reactions to see what was truly going on and for us to understand the reactions.”

    The team also credits Dr. Wettergreen, who serves as a faculty mentor and he has been a huge part of the success of their project, as far as ideas and pushing them to have high standards, Allison said.

    The team is currently in the process of applying for a provisional patent for the device, and the students hope to continue their work together in their spare time when they return to Rice as sophomores.

    “As a team, we just want to follow the project, because we think it has a lot of potential. I think that’s what drew us to this specific project,” Allison said. “We haven’t really discussed yet whether we’re going dedicate to making this a company, but it’s something we’re open to.”


    About David Ruth

    David Ruth is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.

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