Johns Hopkins students to show off creative solutions to real-world problems at annual Design Days

Video: Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering

It's crunch time across the Whiting School of Engineering, as students labor—sometimes around the clock—in laboratories and design spaces to put the finishing touches on projects. Their creations range from a small hovering aircraft that can land in a tree branch as effortlessly as a bird to a hand-held device that enables breast cancer treatment in rural clinics.

"If we haven't been here quite 24 hours a day, it sometimes feels like it," says David Levi, a senior mechanical engineering major, looking around the department's cluttered senior design space in the basement of the Wyman Park building, where he and teammates are refining their prototype. "It's lucky that we have this awesome area with couches, so we can crash if we get too tired. Design Day is almost here."

Held annually in early May, the Whiting School's Engineering Design Days are a rite of passage: a chance for students in disciplines such as mechanical engineering, civil engineering, biomedical engineering, materials science, and electrical and computer engineering to prove that they can translate theoretical knowledge into creative, practical solutions to real-world problems.

"They have to apply everything they have learned in the classroom and lab to a problem that doesn't yet have a solution."
Nicholas Durr, CBID director of undergraduate programs

During these events, which will take place on Tuesday, student teams make presentations about their designs to sponsors and mentors from industry and government, faculty members, clinicians, and fellow students. Presentations can include prototypes, posters, and demonstrations, or a combination thereof.

"Each student design team focuses on solving a real-world clinical problem. In this process, they have to apply everything they have learned in the classroom and lab to a problem that doesn't yet have a solution," says Nicholas Durr, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and director of undergraduate programs within the Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design. "In biomedical engineering, our mission is to educate future leaders who will make an impact on health care. Senior design is a critical part of this education."

This year, BME will host two design events: its annual BME Design Day, in which undergraduate and graduate students showcase their creations, as well as a first-ever Student Healthcare Design Competition, open to student teams from across Johns Hopkins. Held on JHU's East Baltimore medical campus, both events run from 1-8 p.m.

One finalist in the Student Healthcare Design Competition is a team led by senior BME major Monica Rex. The team's device—a small, hand-held probe that uses extreme cold to kill breast cancer cells—typifies the BME projects, which are created in response to a clinical need. Rex traveled last summer to rural South Africa and was inspired to develop the device after observing the lack of therapeutic options for women there diagnosed with breast cancer.

"Our goal was to adapt a current technology used to treat cervical cancer so that it could be used to treat breast cancer," Rex explains.

On the Homewood campus, students in the departments of civil engineering, mechanical engineering, materials science, and electrical and computer engineering also will be presenting their projects during Design Day:

  • The Department of Civil Engineering event runs from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in Hackerman Hall B-17. There, student teams will present their plans for improvements to Frank Lloyd Wright's "Fallingwater" historic site in Mill Run, Pennsylvania.

  • The Department of Mechanical Engineering Design Day runs 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Hodson Hall 210 and adjacent foyer. Sixteen teams will present prototypes and plans for projects ranging from a prosthesis that enables female veterans to wear high heels to the development of advanced materials for use in athletic wear.

  • The Department of Materials Science and Engineering event runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Great Hall at Levering. Teams will present plans, designs, and prototypes for projects such as a vest that helps monitor the success of cystic fibrosis medications and a lab-on-a-chip assay for detection of a malaria biomarker in blood.

  • The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering will hold its Design Day from noon to 5 p.m. in the Glass Pavilion. Projects to be presented include a "smart" coffee mug that keeps beverages at a sustained temperature, a new style of intercom system, and a cervical consistency diagnostic tool.

  • The Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering will hold its Senior Design Day at 4:30 p.m on Tuesday, May 10 in Gilman Hall 132. Student teams will present their plans for "Storm Water Management for Fort Meade" before professional partners from the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as department faculty and fellow students.

  • The Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering's Design Day was held from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on April 29 in the Mattin Center. Students presented project prototypes that included a hot drink temperature indicator, a disappearing dry erase marker, a post-surgery biodegradable chemotherapy implant, and a hydrophilic coating that prevents chewing gum from sticking to surfaces.