Monday, February 27, 2012

BE: Up close and personal!

As Bioengineering students in Penn Engineering, Chloe and Logan , were excited at the opportunity to take BE 400: Clinical Preceptorship in Bioengineering. The course is directed by Dr. David Eckmann, Horatio C. Wood Professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care and Professor of Bioengineering.  The course is three pronged, integrating a 10-week hands-on preceptorship, bioengineering seminars, and exposés on specific bioengineering fields. Students are matched with preceptors within their field of interest and complete a bioengineering project throughout the semester with their mentor. Here they discuss our ongoing preceptorship so you can get a glimpse of this unique opportunity!

In my BE 400 preceptorship, I am shadowing Dr. Caroline Garzotto, surgeon in orthopedics and soft tissue, at the Ryan Veterinary Medical Center. During clinical hours, I accompany Dr. Garzotto to her consultations and rehabilitation therapies. Dr. Garzotto works with patients that exhibit Osteochondrosis (when cartilage turns to bone), broken limb bones, torn ALCs, and spinal disorders that cause permanent or semi-permanent paralysis. Many of the reparative surgery techniques are similar to those used in humans. I have had the opportunity to learn about different surgery procedures including tibial-plateau leveling osteotomy, tibial tuberosity advancement, and lateral sutures. During the semester, I will be working on constructing a support device for tetraplegic and tetrapharetic cats and dogs. The device will be able to support paralyzed animals while they complete rehabilitation exercises.

The preceptor I will be working with this semester is Dr. Samantha Pfeifer, who specializes in Infertility and Reproductive Endocrinology. For the first half of the semester, my partner and I will be shadowing Dr. Pfeifer in her surgical procedures in order to become familiar with the engineering technologies utilized in her field. While it has only been a week since we first met her, my partner and I have already observed a hysterectomy, both performed laparoscopically as well as via laparotomy, and a labiaplasty. It was most interesting to see the difference between the two hysterectomy surgeries in both the technique as well as the patient outcome. Whereas the laparotomy was more invasive and left a larger scar, the laparoscopic surgery was minimally invasive and used robotics and imaging software to remove the patient’s uterus. Personally, I enjoyed watching the laparotomy because I was able to see how the surgeons cut through the fat and muscle to reach the uterus and then manually remove the organ while being sure to not damage the ureters or any vessels that could result in significant bleeding. By sitting in on these surgeries, my partner and I have been able to see firsthand the impact of these engineering technologies on the advancement of surgical techniques in obstetrics and gynecology.  
In order to improve patient care and surgical efficiency, classes like BE 400 are crucial in educating students of the significance and power in fusing engineering principles with medicine. By simply observing surgeries, I have become inspired to utilize my engineering skills to develop innovative solutions to many of the problems that exist within the healthcare space. Not only will this course allow me to become aware of the unmet needs in medicine, but it will also provide me with the opportunity to collaborate with a physician in order to develop a new device or technology that will in some way made a difference in medicine.

Questions about BE? Contact Chloe and Logan at

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Guts and Glory of Senior Design

Senior Design, although different across departments, is a chance to take all of the knowledge you've amassed from three years in school and apply it to a year long project in basically anything you want. It's exciting in September imagining all the possibilities and down right daunting in February when you realize the task you've undertaken… 

My personal experience with senior design has been amazing so far. I am on a team with four other mechanical engineers and one electrical engineer. We are the third phase of an ongoing project to take an RC (Remote-Controlled) aircraft and make it autonomous, able to fly itself. We also want to make it be able to accurately deliver a payload when it has detected a radio signal. It has real world applications in disaster relief, delivering military supplies, and rescuing stranded hikers. 

The best part of senior design is the freedom you have and the chance to work so closely with a faculty member, at least in the case of MEAM. Our experience with our faculty advisor, Dr. Bruce Kothmann, has been amazing. We obviously can't fly model airplanes in an urban environment like Penn's campus, so once every few weeks Bruce picks us up in his mini-van early on a weekday or even on weekends, and takes us out to Fairmount Park to test whatever we've accomplished in the past two weeks. He has just as much, if not more, fun as we do flying the planes and he's an endless source of great advice which can take the form of encouragement or pointing out how flawed our plan was :) 

We've had to use a lot of mechanical design, aerodynamics, control system design, programming, electrical engineering, and even more project management skills, but it's been a blast because we are all excited about the project, and let's face it, getting up early once every few weeks to fly model airplanes is hardly something to complain about. It's a really great experience to be involved in such a large scale project while in school and it truly is OUR project. It's our job to update the professors with reports and presentations, our job to order our parts and track money, our job to budget our time, and never mind the kind of important task of, um, actually making this plane fly. We've worked through team issues, hardware issues, supplier issues, and whether or not this plane gets off the ground at the end of April, we will have learned more than any lecture class could have ever taught us. But…let's still hope we get to watch it fly in April!

Questions about senior design?  Contact Sarah at

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Student Group Profile: SEAS Green

In the spring of 2011, a new student group was born: SEAS Green. The beauty of college is how you can take things that you are really passionate about and join up with others who are also excited about the same things, and then bam--you have a new group of dedicated students willing to collaborate on a common interest.

SEAS Green's goals are to use their engineering prowess to help address and promote sustainable initiatives in the engineering school. There has been an overwhelming demand for energy courses at Penn (there is now a engineering minor in energy and sustainability), so it was only due time that the engineering school would also see a greater demand and an increase in extracurricular opportunities to compliment those courses. In addition to spear heading projects like investigating the opportunities to install hand dryers in bathrooms and cut back computer energy usage when computer aren't in use, SEAS Green also strives to connect students with opportunities in sustainable fields after graduation.

We have had lunches with professors who are working on research in energy fields, and we have hosted mini-lectures on special topics like the energy market for our members. We also had a lecture from the head of Penn's Green Campus Partnership, which is the Facilities and Real Estate Services group dedicated to bringing sustainable efforts to Penn. In two weeks, we will be sponsoring a trip to the All-Ivy Colombia University Environmental Career Fair where there will dozens of employers from energy industries in attendance. We are excited to take students of all years, freshmen through seniors to open them up to the opportunities available after graduation. The field of environmental and sustainable opportunities is quickly growing and we are thrilled to be a part of it!

Have questions about SEAS Green?  Contact Megan at