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Getting Their Hands Dirty

Engineering_world_health1Engineering World Health

Simple Solutions to Saving Lives
Sometimes the solution to a big problem can be relatively small and simple. Take, for example, the defibrillator testers that members of the Johns Hopkins chapter of Engineering World Health are building as part of the group’s mission to deliver medical equipment and expertise to underserved nations.

The 4-by-3-inch rectangles of hard black plastic arrive in pieces, their LED lights, wires, and circuit boards in need of an hour’s worth of soldering and assembly. The completed testers are distributed to hospitals in a handful of developing nations including Honduras, Costa Rica, and Tanzania to assess the function of the lifesaving medical device used to treat cardiac patients. Though small, the devices, which aren’t widely available in these countries, can make a huge impact.

“These testers are really important because they can help save lives,” says Danielle Dorfman ’11, a biomedical engineering major and founding member of the group. “Here we are at Johns Hopkins, home to the best hospital in the country and in the world. We know we have the resources to make a difference in these hospitals and that’s just what we hope to do.”

EWH-JHU, which was founded in Spring 2008, plans to assemble at least 100 of the testers this year. But that’s not their only focus. Members are also working to establish a relationship with local hospitals so they can volunteer in the clinical engineering department fixing broken medical equipment. With that knowledge, the students hope to repair the broken medical equipment they’ve collected over the past year and send it to hospitals overseas. And the students just submitted a proposal for EWH’s national design competition to build a manually powered otoscope for use in developing countries where external power sources are inadequate and batteries are not in large supply. Otoscopes, which are used to look into the ears and diagnose ear infections, are not widely available in medical facilities in developing nations, where undetected chronic ear infections are a major cause of hearing impairment.

“In the United States we have all of the medical equipment we need, but it wouldn’t necessarily fit in the environments in the developing world,” explains Brian Keeley ’11, a biomedical engineering major who is president of the chapter. “It might be too technical, require too much power, or be too expensive. What we want to do is come up with a simpler design that’s cheaper to manufacture and easier to use.” Although many of the group’s 30 members are biomedical engineering majors, their reasons for joining vary. Freshman Manjima Dhar says she wanted to see firsthand how engineering and medicine worked together. What drew Zachary Patterson ’13 was a desire to help people in need. “This is just a great opportunity to serve people who are so often neglected,” he says.

Engineering World Health members say they learn each day of another need for medical supplies and equipment overseas, which strengthens their resolve to help. Not too long ago, Rabia Karani ’13 had such an experience when she told her family about her work with the group. One of her uncles, who works in a hospital in Pakistan, was especially excited about Karani’s involvement in addressing health disparities and emailed her a short list of some basic items like centrifuges that his hospital lacks and desperately needs. She can’t wait to help. “When you think of all of the luxuries we have in American hospitals that people don’t have elsewhere, it just really opens your eyes,” she says.

HUES1Hopkins Undergraduate Engineering Society

Connections That Stick
It’s called the “Tower of Power Half Hour” and the rules are simple: Take a box of spaghetti and two bags of large marshmallows. Then, working as part of a team of five, build the tallest free-standing structure you can in just 30 minutes. No glue, no scissors, no additional building materials are allowed. And if the tower collapses before a student judge can get an accurate measurement, you’re out.

When the Johns Hopkins Undergraduate Engineering Society (HUES) debuted the wacky, sticky contest in February 2008 as a kick-off event to Engineers Week, the group hoped to field 10 teams. They got 39. The winning structure measured five-plus feet, won its team of engineers a couple of $50 gift cards, and spawned what has now become a much-loved annual event. It also did something else: brought students—and even alumni—from across the Whiting School of Engineering together.

“It’s just fun to be part of something that brings people together who normally wouldn’t be together,” says Max Rich ’10, a biomedical engineering and math major. Rich is a founding member of the group and says the Tower of Power Half Hour will return to campus in February for its third year. “You can take the time to get away from classes. You don’t have to stress out about it. Anytime that you get to interact with your peers and work on solving problems with an interdisciplinary perspective is just great.”

There is no dearth of clubs for undergraduates at the Whiting School of Engineering. But what struck Lee Ouyang ’10 not long after he arrived on campus was that many of the clubs were aimed at particular majors or areas of study. “Some of us thought the groups on campus were a little too narrow,” says Ouyang, who founded HUES in 2007 and is co-president with Stephen Reilly ’10. “We just wanted to bring people together to learn about engineering and have fun doing engineering projects.”

HUES member Julie Fogarty ’10, a civil engineering major, joined the group as a sophomore. “Once you move into upper-level courses specific to your major, it’s easy to get disconnected from the engineering community as a whole,” says Fogarty. “While the administration attempts to foster interdepartmental interaction through the Whiting School semester picnics and Engineers Week in the spring, HUES specifically targets students through competitions and community service to make an engineering student’s experience at Hopkins more wellrounded and enjoyable.”

The group, which has 300 students on its mailing list, isn’t just about fun and games (although the Engineering Carnival the group sponsored last year with other Whiting School student groups was a big hit). The group works closely with the Career Center to help promote workshops and job opportunities to specific engineering majors. There’s an annual day of service. And HUES is hoping to sponsor its first Undergraduate Research Conference in the spring semester. “There’s so much engineering research being done at Hopkins,” Ouyang says. “We just wanted to showcase some of the work and highlight projects that might not be far enough along to be accepted by a large conference.”

Robotics_club1Johns Hopkins Robotics Team

Creativity Unleashed
Andrew Rohland ’12 always assumed there would be an undergraduate robotics team at Johns Hopkins. After all, the university is home to one of the premier robotics and computer sensing research groups in the world. And Rohland, whose Southern Maryland high school’s robotics team made it to the national finals in the Georgia Dome, figured there would be lots of like-minded students at the Whiting School of Engineering—classmates who enjoyed the challenge of working together to build and program robots and compete against teams from other schools for cash prizes and bragging rights.

But when he arrived on campus in Fall 2008, the mechanical engineering major learned that the university hadn’t had a robotics team in years. So he decided to start one. “Robotics gives students practice for ‘real world’ engineering and hopefully might even bring professors and undergraduates together for research opportunities,” says Rohland ’12. “I think a lot of students at Hopkins want to be in an extracurricular activity that is related to their field of study and more companies are looking for that as well.”

Rohland was surprised when 40 students who share his love for robotics joined the new team this fall. Faculty advisor and computer science professor Gregory Hager was surprised, too, but also pleased since he knows the experience allows undergraduates to draw on their knowledge of mechanical and electrical engineering, computer science, math, and physics and gain valuable experience. “The hands-on experience students get in the Robotics Team is as different from what they do in class as doing a thesis is from doing homework,” Hager says. “They get creative opportunities to collaborate and pool what they know to develop a complete system, then see it in action.”

On a recent evening, team members met in the Laboratory for Computational Sensing and Robotics to work on designs for two of the three competitions they plan to participate in this year. One group, led by Venkatesh Srinivas ’09, deliberated over the number of thrusters to buy for their entry for an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle competition sponsored by AUVSI (Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International). Their vehicle must perform a series of tasks underwater and the more thrusters they use, the easier the submarine will be to control. Despite having only $1,000 in their budget at the moment, the group decided to buy three thrusters, increase their fundraising, and cut back on their future pizza ordering. “Participating in these competitions is fun because you get to play with stuff that you hear about but you don’t understand until you actually do it,” Srinivas says.

Meanwhile, freshman Sinan Ozdemir led the second group in designing an entry for the AUVSI International Aerial Robotics Competition (IARC). Their task: To create a fully autonomous helicopter that can navigate a building, drop the flash drive it is carrying and pick up another, and avoid detection by laser trip wires. Their secret weapon? Sonar. “We’re not sure anyone has ever used sonar before,” says Ozdemir, a computer science major. “It’s a really cool idea that will get everyone’s attention. Even if we don’t win, people will remember it.”

Rohland is already thinking beyond the competitions, however. “It would be neat to have a robotic tour guide at Hopkins,” he says. “I know we could do it.”

 

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