I’m a graduate student at Yale, and I don’t really specialize in anything in particular. My projects are all over the place, from bioreactors that are used to grow engineered tissues, to app development. Recently, I’ve been fascinated by cool electronics projects – specifically wireless sensor networks. From a very young age, I was curious about how things worked, and started making my own stuff. Fortunately, my parents were patient enough to allow me to try things – through the inevitable destruction of some household items – to get me to where I am now.
My favorite project that I’ve had the privilege to work on was a patient simulator as part of a course in Medical Device Design that was taught in the Yale Center for Engineering Innovation and Design. We developed a unit that simulated a patient’s heart and reacted to external stimuli provided by a pacemaker. The device was a simulation training aid that allowed healthcare providers to practice using an external pacemaker on a patient. It connected to a patient monitor via ECG electrodes on one end (to relay the simulated patient’s physiological electrical signals) and on the other end connected to the external pacemaker. The electronics hardware mimicked the human body’s response to the external stimulation, displaying the results with a method (the patient heart monitor) that is familiar to the health care workers. The simulator could be remotely controlled by a custom iOS app I designed, which operated over low-energy Bluetooth. In partnership with the physicians that we worked with on this project, we are currently developing a training curriculum for the Yale-New Haven Hospital.
SolidWorks and the 3D printers at the Yale CEID are my go-to resources. SolidWorks allows me to try different ideas out, and let me flexibly iterate on designs, while the 3D printers are great for rapid prototyping and realizing the pros and cons of a physical design.
My biggest challenge was developing a bioreactor in which to grow hyaline articular cartilage. The hardest part was knowing what design criteria should be prioritized, as this was a fairly complex system, and having the hard-deadline of the end of the semester to produce a viable tissue. Fortunately, I was able to work with experts in the field, along with a diverse team, and constantly consult with them along the way. After my fourth iteration (in SolidWorks), we finally decided to machine the bioreactor, with a design focusing on providing cyclic hydrostatic pressure along with shear stress. We were able to culture superior tissue constructs compared to controls in static culture.
To summarize: success was funneled through a steady source of coffee, a diverse and talented team, along with unwavering resolve, even when setbacks like contamination or incorrect part orders stood in our way.
Maker culture isn’t exclusive. It encompasses all who are willing to pursue their ideas for cool projects that either fill a space that doesn’t have a device/product that fulfills that need, or one that offers a more elegant solution. Importantly, it is not a space that is only dominated by engineers and scientists, for others from the humanities, arts and elsewhere often provide insight into the development of the best solutions. Engineers often tend to get caught up in the specifics, and those that are most valuable are those who can bridge the gap between creativity and technical skill, allowing them to have the resources to follow their interests and imaginative ideas.
The Yale CEID is the center for innovation on campus. Just walking by, you can see the availability of many of the resources available to students. That alone – inspires people to take their crazy/lofty ideas and actually make something. In addition, the different projects that are constantly worked on are an inspiration to the passerby, and within the center, motivate others by raising the bars of complexity, creativity and impact.
My answer is two-fold. Sometimes the solutions that are most pursued are those that are approached from the ‘accepted’ vantage point. This is limiting in some ways, and by allowing people to simply ‘make’, these restrictions are not imposed and can allow for more innovative thinking. As long as the design criteria and problem are well understood, solutions can come about that contribute to larger issues.
Secondly, the sharing of ideas and projects empowers other makers and can help provide building blocks for more complex problems. Sites like instructables.com, for example, have been critical in the development of some of my own projects because they can give you insight into what has been done and can inspire a new design.
I think that the major hindrance on making culture is the perception that one has to be an expert or tech-savvy to be able to make stuff. This is false, and as you work on more and more projects, you develop a skill set that helps to streamline your design process. This is not only limited to technical skills, but creative skills as well. Real challenges to making in higher education are ensuring that places like design centers and machine shops are available to students and that there are resources and people to help troubleshoot and consult on projects.
Critical. More so than in any other recent generation, the technology available to us – in terms of computing power, availability, tools for prototyping, etc. – are allowing us to apply creativity without the question of “yes, but how are we going to do that?” hindering our process. The advent of 3D printing, microprocessors, smart technologies, and centers that enable people to try prototyping their ideas like the CEID are revolutionizing the space and it’s a very exciting time to be in this area.
Try and learn as much as you can about different technologies. Follow you interests and surround yourself with people who constantly challenge you and whom you can learn from. Don’t give up – perseverance is always warranted and can lead to great things.