Every teacher dreams their students will catch the vision of their own potential, and for a group of undergraduates at Rice University in Houston, Texas, that’s exactly what is happening—and it’s changing lives on the other side of the world.
Engineering professor Maria Oden and chairwoman of bioengineering Rebecca Richards-Kortum run a program called Rice 360. Students are challenged to find solutions for problems faced by rural hospitals, often lacking in equipment and high cost medical supplies.
Oden explains that once a team of undergraduates sinks their collective teeth into a project, it’s hard to let go: “We have teams who may have been in a class four semesters ago, and they are still working on this project – not because they are getting credit, not because they are in a course, but because they want to solve this problem.”
One example of this innovation came in the form of a bubble CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. It works by pushing a stream of air into the lungs of premature infants to help them breathe. To create an affordable machine, students decided to use a plastic shoe box and two aquarium pumps, and it WORKED! The device has been tested in Malawi and is being distributed at several hospitals there.
Richards-Kortum says that the journey from design to production to real world implementation can be long, but it’s worth it: “It’s sort of magic when you see it come together. It’s the best part of our job.”
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Image: Neonatal nurse Florence Mwenifumbo monitors a newborn receiving bubble CPAP treatment in Blantyre, Malawi. The device was developed by students at Rice University in Houston. Rice 360 / Rice University