Engineering Students. Efficient Solutions. Empowering Society.

19 05 2010

This blog is dedicated to a new initiative started by students and faculty of Biomedical Engineering at BU. The goal is to use simple engineering approaches, ideas, concepts and share them with colleagues and students in engineering, medicine and public health in Zambia to address current challenges. Students at BU and at the University of Zambia, with the help of their faculty colleagues will identify problems that they are able to solve or address and will come up with simple creative solutions.

To keep the costs low and process tractable, we will limit the total budget at $100. In steady state, we hope that this will lead to 100 or so projects a year, each aimed at solving a unique challenge in health-care through innovative engineering approaches.

So why are we doing this?

I got back from Zambia a couple of weeks ago. There I was able to see how much we engineers can do, for so many people and it wouldnt cost us very much. The needs are great, the problems severe but people over there are ready to make a change in their lives and the lives of their kids. If we can provide them with the ideas, approaches and expertise, they themselves will be able to take them to the next step and implement them in creative and innovative ways. I felt that we ought to do something and do it now.

The BIG picture:
After several lengthy discussions, I came up with a “100 x 100” idea — which is actually quite simple. Each year, we do a 100 projects each of which will have a total cost of $100 or less. This sounds super ambitious, right? Well it is. We wont get to 100 ideas/projects in one year, but in steady state we will. The idea is that we will have students here at BU (from public health, engineering and other disciplines) come up with ideas. The ideas will be shared on this blog.

The ideas will then be debated and discussed for feasibility and application from input from you folks as well as others in Zambia and here. Some ideas will be implemented solely in Zambia, others will be done here and some will be split. The goal is two fold

  1. To empower the students of engineering and medicine in Zambia to innovate and implement these ideas.
  2. To have BU students, both undergrad and grad, come up with ideas that improve the lives of folks in Zambia through simple, affordable and tractable projects.

Can we do something for $100?
Of course we can. Think about improving the design of crutches or prosthetics. That is a major problem with disability clinics and other orthopedic clinics in Zambia. Crutches are designed and fabricated by “make shift carpenters”. Students can do a computational analysis of the crutch design and materials and can substantially improve the performance and optimization for various needs. The total cost of this analysis is well below $100 — AND this is something the engineering students in Zambia can easily do. If software is required, we can provide it.

Other examples include pulse-oximeter — we can add a solar panel to it, or charge it with cell phone chargers with less than $100. A “systems analysis” of EID or texting can be done as well.

Sustaining the effort:
We want students to take ownership of this. Students are often busy and can have varying levels of enthusiasm at different stages in their careers, so we want to keep it simple and something they can do easily. We don’t want these projects to be extensive, but small steps that help the community. We will incorporate existing efforts (such as discussions between BME grad students and Public health students) into this framework as well. Eventually, we want to take this to other schools in the Boston area.

Involvement of Public Health and Folks from Zambia:
Students in engineering have no clue about the “ground realities” so we need help from students in public health and those in Zambia to tell us whether something would work or not. We also want the local students in Zambia, as part of their projects, to feel that they are the ones who are equal partners. We want this to be an exercise in sharing ideas, thoughts and suggestions, so the blog would help and create projects that can be like 4th year projects in mechanical engineering at UNZA.

Recruitment:
During the next year, I will be offering a class on “Service engineering” to undergrads, where I will be talking about how engineering can make an impact in public health in developing world. That would be part of this initiative and other similar efforts. Engineers Without Borders is also keen on participating and so are graduate students.

What do we need from you?
We have to start with sharing ideas. I want you guys to help in giving us ideas and analyzing existing ideas for suitability and appropriateness. It wont be a huge time cost, but it would allow in making sure that we use our efforts and time wisely.

So lets get started.

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