Engineers compete in Make-a-thon

The Associated Students of Biomedical Engineering hosted the first ever Make-a-thon at USC to provide students in the biomedical field with real-life, application-based challenges. The competition, which spanned a period of over 30 hours from Feb. 26 to Feb. 28, had the students working in teams in order to solve a time-sensitive case.

The teams had to develop a solution to address the incidence of musculoskeletal injuries during missions in space while considering necessary material and functional constraints of payload size and weight, medical knowledge of diagnosis and application and the existing treatment of casting and splinting.

“We wanted the students to have a hands-on experience on developing real time devices,” said Shira Bernard, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering and one of the event organizers. “This is the first time that this event is happening at USC, and we are very excited.”

Fourteen teams of over 75 students participated in the event. Two of these teams were made up of students from visiting schools. The event started at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center with a formal introduction to the problem by Tianna Shaw, project manager for multi-disciplinary teams at NASA Ames Research Center. Shaw, who holds a dual bachelor’s degree in biomedical and electrical engineering from USC, emphasized that the limited size of spacecraft makes it difficult to fit all medical resources.

“Your role as biomedical engineers is extremely important. The future of a whole variety of activities at NASA depends a lot on the modern advancement in medical field,” Shaw said to students. “We have had many injuries in the space in the past, and now we are looking at … designing miniaturized versions of biomedical instruments that would fit in a space lab.”

On Saturday, the teams brainstormed, made functional requirements and created the prototype design for the medical device with Computer Aided Design tools. On the basis of prototypes, five top teams were selected for a chance to utilize USC’s Fabrication Lab to construct their designs from a variety of materials and methods.

During the competition, corporate representatives and USC professors mentored students. The teams were excited to work on their designs through the entire night for the final check-in presentation on Sunday.

Craig Western, mechanisms designer for manned space vehicles and a member of the Viterbi School of Engineering’s Emerging Leader’s Board, delivered the keynote to the students in which he talked about creativity and innovation being the key attributes of the modern engineer.

“Build things and build them fast,” Western said. “Taking your ideas and turning them into something real is the key to being successful.”