reimagining play-doh

 

Young children in the Peruvian Andes often need to travel hours to reach schools. These schools lack adequate learning material and teachers. As a result, children are disenchanted with learning and believe they can better use their time at home helping their parents with farming. Peruvian students consistently score among the lowest on the PISA test compared to other Latin American countries. 

 

 
 

 

In 2015, I designed and manufactured a sensory platform for education games that aim to enhance deductive and quantitative skills in adolescents by leveraging the dynamic quality of Play-doh. This affordable solution was deployed in rural areas of Peru where access to educational technologies is severely limited. 

 

 
 

 

I was inspired to use Play-doh after discovering the material's conductive qualities and realizing this capability could be combined with technology to make learning tactile and engaging. I set out to design an affordable sensor board that recognizes various manipulations of Play-doh. The board is host to a set of creative games built around memory skills, quantitative reasoning, and pattern recognition in order to engage young children in resource-poor environments with little to no exposure to education.

 

 
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The flexibility and scalability of this educational 'kit' is due to the fact that children are able to swap out "covers" on the board in order to switch between games. The variety of manipulations of Play-doh allow for infinitely many possible games of a variety of difficulty and learning objectives.

 

 
 

 

In December 2015, the second iteration of the board was rolled out in Peru. Stylistic as well as technical improvement were made to the kit. In total, the cost of producing Klay is around $15 per kit.

 

 
 

 

This project came out of a collaboration between the Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología in Lima, Peru. Klay was the winner of the 2015 Deutsche Bank Challenge. I am currently working on developing the next iteration of the board and implementing the platform in more classrooms around Peru.

 

find out more here

 

rapid-prototyping medical devices

 

Manufacturing prosthetics in war-torn, low-income communities is a time-intensive and expensive process. Cambodia has the largest number of amputees per capita due to land mines, yet most of its amputees have no access to prosthetics. For those who do, the manufacturing process takes weeks and the final product is more of a hinderance (heavy, bulky, and passive) than an aid. 

 

To address this issue, I designed a workflow and technology solution in 2015 that involves scanning a patient’s residual limb with a mobile device/camera, processing the digital model in order to generate a custom fitted prosthetic socket, and printing the prosthetic using affordable bio-compatible plastic 

 

First, the patient is landmarked for protrusions and notable features on the residual limb. Approximately 100 images of the limb at various angles are captured. These images are stitched together to create a digital model of the limb, at scale.

 

 
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A socket that fits perfectly on the residual limb is generated in the software, and then printed.


 
 

The remainder of the prosthetic is assembled by hand. The overall material cost of the device is $5.


 
 

 

Cheng Savvy, my first patient, lost his arm and legs in a land mine accident decades ago in rural Cambodia and has been a trooper every day since. Nothing could have been better than seeing the smile on his face as he walked away with his new arm.

 

 

next generation of prosthetics

 

Currently in the Biomechatronics Group at the MIT Media Lab, we are working on the osseointegration of prosthetics — interfacing our devices with the bone — so as to connect to muscles and nerves within the existing residual limb. This interface will allow our prosthetics to more closely mimic biological limbs than do existing devices.

 

In order to test our new prosthetic designs two problems needed to be addressed. Our prosthetic required accurate knee angle information but knee movement is not purely rotational as is a hinge. A device was needed to reliably communicate knee angle information to the prosthetic without restricting a patient’s walking motion. In addition, new torsional springs were designed specifically for the prosthetic and a method of characterizing the mechanical properties of the spring needed to be developed. 

 

 
 

 

Adaptable and sensory knee Brace

I designed and manufactured a linkage system to be anchored to both the upper and lower leg. This mechanism tracks the angle of the knee during joint’s rotation, while still allowing for linear translation without hinderance to the patient. 

 

 
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Spring testing apparatus

In order to test the custom torsional springs the Biomechatronics Group developed, I designed and manufactured a testbed, whose function could be customized to evaluate a variety of properties. 

 

 
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In this particular setup (below), a motor controller was programmed to instruct the high torque motor to rotate one end of the spring. The other end remained fixed to a load cell, which measured the resulting torque. This data was fed into a program which determined the mechanical properties of the spring. 

 

 
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3d printing meets biology

 

During my time in the Lewis Lab at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard, our goal was to 3D print a vascular network, which would support developing tissue. The dream was to produce and sustain fully functional organs. 

In order to do so, a system needed to be designed to house the 3D-printing and tissue experiments.

 
 

 

Organoid Perfusion system

I designed and manufactured (using a 3D bio-printer) a network of channels, which became vasculature after infusion with cells. Using this tissue, we managed to support developing tissue for over a month.

 

 
 
 

sharing creativity

 

In January 2015, I traveled to Kibera, Kenya – one of the largest urban slums in the world – in an attempt to introduce design thinking into a community that most desperately needs positive change. My two classmates and I partnered with the Human Needs Project – a town center that provides basic services (water, toilets, showers, laundry) to residents of Kibera – to bring together a group of teenagers and young adults from the community. Our goal was to walk through IDEO's design thinking process with the group with hopes that we could better understand the issues Kibera's residents were facing. The result of this project amazed me. 

 

 
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We started off by asking our new friends what frustrated them on a day-to-day basis. Our philosophy was that identification of problems arise when we are uncertain, uncomfortable, or frustrated. The uniqueness of each and everyone’s environments means that we all get frustrated by different things. We all notice and are bothered by different things. The key is to recognize when we are frustrated, and identify that moment as one of opportunity, rather than to do what humans are inherently good at: shrugging and living with that problem. Thus we posed the question to the 10 residents of Kibera: What makes your upset or frustrated? The responses we got were mind-blowing. Here is a sampling of some of them.

One teen said that the noise in the slums never stopped. He was frustrated with the never ending music his neighbor would be blasting, the commotion in the streets or the tinkering of pots and pans. All these noises, he described, would penetrate easily throughout the tin walls of the slums. He dreamed of a device he could stick in his ear to cancel the noises at night when he tried to sleep. Sleep, it seemed, was a priority for this young man and many of his friends.

Charles, a former science teacher who complained about the difficulty of teaching STEM without hands on demos, equipment and experiments, envisioned a method of collected plastic waste around the slum and turning it into a form of recycled 3D printing filament.

Ted, a manager at the center, explained that he had two frustrations: Ignorance and the Kenyan system. He spoke of his friend who was a pastor at his church. 80% of his disposable income would go towards buying the pulpit, chairs, and other decor. Why do you do this, Ted would often ask him. What about your family? Do you have enough to provide for them? “God demands it,” would be his friend’s reply. “I am frustrated that the Kenyan people cannot make decisions for themselves. It is the Kenyan way to wait and be told what to do. We need to empower ourselves.” Much of this causes ignorance, he explained. Ted walked over to the bookshelf in the center, where we were teaching the class. He pulled out a national geographic kids book entitled “Why?” a book that explained to kids a lot of phenomena in our world. He turned to a random page and read out a random question. “Why does it not hurt to cut hair? Why does hair grow even though its dead?” Next question: “Why do we need to brush our teeth?” Ted got irritated. “Why is it that kids in the United States know the answers to these questions but adults here don’t?! This needs to change! We need to educated our kids not just on traditional “subjects” of education but information that is relevant and applicable!”

My favorite response came from a young girl, Maureen, who graduated from primary school but couldn’t afford secondary school. “I am upset by the structure of our education system. We are forced to complete primary, secondary, high school, and college education in order to receive a certificate which can get us a good job. But these methods of education do not encourage us to do what we are passionate about. There is so much potential in the slum but most of these youth who are passionate about non-traditional skills (technology, manufacturing) are forgotten because they either do not perform well under traditional methods of school testing or they cannot afford to go to school. All their opportunity for moving out of their socioeconomic bracket is lost because they cannot get a certificate of accreditation upon graduating college.”

While the same issues are at hand with education in the United States, namely the complacency that many students have towards their style of education—one that is clearly not working—most students are not able to recognize this. They merely drift along the path, clearly defined, but really leading nowhere. I later wondered myself. It surely can’t be that the kids are naturally more intelligent than Americans. It definitely isn’t true the other way around either. Is it the environment that these kids have grown up under, one that augments the issues of education more than is true for Americans, that makes the problems of education all the more dire, noticeable and relevant? These kids deeply understand the need for change because the quality of their lives depends on it.

 

 
 

 

Next, we broke the group of 15 students into 3 groups, each tackling a different problem, which they had identified: How can 3D printing be used to improve the quality and delivery of education in the slums? How can transportation in the slums be made more efficient, safe, or effective? And how can household processes in the slums be simplified?

We put the groups to work brainstorming possible solutions (our target was 30 for each question) and our friends far exceeded the goal. We got answers ranging from a navigation app for the slums, a briquette maker that uses wood, waste paper, and leaves to form alternatives to charcoal briquettes (major source of energy in the slums), and 3D printing hands-on lab/educational kits to provide an enhanced experience in the classroom (currently, there are no STEM labs because of a lack of resources).

 

 
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While the trip was brief, the lessons were plenty. Design is a visceral process. Creativity is a shared and collaborative experience. Change and opportunity coems from the feeling of vulnerability. Combined with passion and ambition, vulnerability becomes an asset, not a liability. And I hope we were able to leave that impression behind.

 

 
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For more about the trip, visit my blog.

 

 

adaptive medical devices

 

In 2013, I designed a printable medical device to treat patient with severe gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD remains the most common gastrointestinal-related diagnosis by physicians. Acid reflux, the most prevalent of the many symptoms this disease causes, affects an estimated 23 million people two or more times a week in the United States alone. 

 

Most treatments of GERD and its symptoms today understandably target the acid buildup. For one, drugs that reduce acid are—for the most part—more reliable and specific than mechanical substitutions for a deficient sphincter. Proton pump inhibitors, as these drugs are called, form the third largest drug market in the world. These treatments, however, don't work. Over 40% of patients who are on daily regiments of PPIs reported partial or complete lack of response. 

 

I set out to design a device that would effectively replace the esophageal sphincter. This device combined the benefits of chemical responsiveness and mechanical design. 

 

One of the requirements for this device was the ability to constrict in acidic environments and expand in non-acidic conditions, in fact augmenting the functionality of current natural sphincters, which simply act as a non-responsive one-way valve. The capability of a tight seal in acidic environments prevents large acid buildup in the stomach from flowing into the esophagus, but also allow food to enter the stomach freely. 

 
 
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Using a polyacrylamide gel composition for the backbone of my sphincter, I designed the device such that swelling would occur under low pH environment and the opposite would occur under high pH conditions. The ability to 3D print this gel allows for customizability for each patient's physiological profile. For more details of the design, click here.

 

The design demonstrated that the intersection between biomaterials engineering and 3D printing provides a platform that has the potential to address the increasingly individual demands of medical treatment.