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August 4,


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Biomed seniors engineer creative solutions

Michelle Tolerico '03 uses a "sip and puff" mechanism to control the robotic arm she and her team members developed as part of their biomedical engineering senior design class.

Stephen Sulkes, associate professor of pediatrics, brought a unique challenge to a team of biomedical engineering undergraduates last fall: Design a robotic arm that would allow an 8-year-old child with quadriplegia to open a door or turn on a computer using a "sip and puff" mechanism. The four seniors--Nick Krebs, Michelle Tolerico, Pavel Krykhtin, and Will Johnston--spent time with the young boy learning more about his needs and then spent countless hours in the lab making the design a reality.

"It was important for us to view the child at school and home to see exactly what type of device would work for him," says Krykhtin. "Then we went to work in the lab planning the design, gathering components, and working through lots of trial-and-error phases until we had a design that worked. The process was stressful at times but immensely rewarding."

Every year, seniors from the biomedical engineering department are approached by clients from the Medical Center to create devices that will address real-world challenges in diagnostics and patient care. The projects are part of a culminating Senior Design class taught this year by Amy Lerner, assistant professor of biomedical engineering.

"Our students spend seven months working on projects to solve some very interesting and challenging problems in biomedical engineering," says Lerner. "Their projects include research instruments, designs to aid those with disabilities, and medical devices for use in a clinical setting."

In the past, several of these problem-solving designs have received national attention for their potential application. Last year a prototype of an operator-controlled storable desk, designed by Scott Hanford '02, Johny Lopez '02, Kadie Simon '02, and Charles Welliver '02 for a Rochester resident with limited use of his hands who needed a desk to use with his power wheelchair, took third place in the 2002 National Industries for the Severely Handicapped Workplace Technology Scholarship Program.

The biomedical engineering department offers an undergraduate program that teaches students to apply foundational knowledge in the basic sciences, mathematics, engineering analysis, and design to address a wide range of problems in medicine and biology. For more information, visit

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