MENG/BENG 404 is a design-based course where students work with physician mentors from the Yale New Haven Hospital (YNHH) to address unmet clinical needs. Working in teams, students conceptualize, design, and build functional prototypes of their solutions over the course of the term. In addition to their design work, students are exposed to the many aspects of the medical technology space through lectures from physicians, healthcare professionals, regulatory bodies, and representatives from both large medical device companies and start-ups.
Innovative ideas require diverse input. As such, this course is open to students from any discipline or year, including graduate students.
This course is intended to introduce students to the design process, and to the tools and techniques to approach complex and multidimensional problems involving multiple stakeholders. Since it is team-based, it also requires students to develop and practice strong project management and organizational skills, in addition to communicating across disciplinary lines. As a hands-on course, students learn a variety of skills and tools as they build physical prototypes that address the design needs presented by the physicians (who then advise the students on their designs throughout the semester).
Throughout the course, students are introduced to a variety of Maker skills relevant to their projects, such as basic electronics, 3D printing, laser cutting, molding, machining and CAD. They are also encouraged to rapidly iterate their designs and prototypes at increasing levels of fidelity. This method is used to help demystify technologies and to build students’ confidence in their ability to develop sophisticated systems in a short period of time.
There are no prerequisites for this course, but all students must apply for the course and explain how they are prepared for immersion in a medical device course. The course normally sees applications from nearly twice that which can be accommodated.
The Center for Engineering Innovation and Design (CEID), where this course is housed, offers a machine shop, wood shop, wet lab, and large studio space which supports activities ranging from sewing to electronics to 3D printing. As students begin to physically develop their prototypes, the CEID staff provides the requisite training for a given tool or technique. Students in this course have explored and leveraged all of the CEID’s resources.
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The most valuable resources in this course are the physician mentors and healthcare professionals the students collaborate with. The close proximity of the Yale New Haven Hospital allows students to have first-hand exposure to clinical needs they are addressing, and to have an active and ongoing dialogue with physicians so they can make informed design decisions. Simultaneously, the resources at the CEID provide an environment to build and test their ideas.
The “Project Launch” report is one of the students’ first assignments where they define the unmet clinical need, develop a mission statement, explore prior art, and develop a project plan for the semester. Subsequent assignments are targeted for each phase of their design process and help build deeper understanding of manufacturing, entrepreneurship, and regulatory pathway.
The open-ended nature of the course, along with the interdisciplinary cohort of students, creates an exciting and dynamic teaching environment. It is truly remarkable to see the passion, drive, and dedication of students when presented with an opportunity to develop to a technology which could have a positive impact on the lives of patients. Real-world, project-based learning is a powerful platform for student engagement.