MIT Student’s Innovative Approach to the Design of Medical Devices

Jessica Xu, a senior at MIT studying mechanical engineering, has merged her love of art and engineering by working with medical devices. Credit: John Freidah

Everything’s an art piece that is the work of the senior Jessica Xu. An accomplished artist, Xu has explored various media, like ink and pen, colored pencil, and watercolor. At MIT, she has broadened her scope beyond traditional media, making campus spaces into artworks.

In her first year of college, Xu painted a mural in the tunnels underneath the campus of MIT through the Borderline Tunnel Project. In the following years, she worked with UA Innovation to transform the “Banana Lounge” with student murals. In this year’s Independent Activities Period, she led the virtual “Chalk of the Day Workshops” to give students creative outlets during their time of quarantine.

Alongside transforming ordinary spaces into works of art, Xu draws inspiration from the everyday environment for her engineering projects. In rethinking a design for the TILT attachment for wheelchairs that allows people to move around areas that aren’t accessible to wheelchairs, Xu was inspired by the design of traffic lights.

“That’s my artistic aspect of me coming into. I’m always looking and finding everything is a blank painting canvas to the senior Jessica Xu.

Xu has explored various media, an artist of many talents, like pen and ink, colored pencil, and watercolor. While at MIT, she has expanded her options beyond the traditional mediums and transformed the campus spaces into art works.

As a freshman, Xu painted a mural within the tunnels that lie beneath the campus of MIT through the Borderline Tunnel Project. Then, she teamed up together with UA Innovation to transform the “Banana Lounge” with student artwork. In this year’s Independent Activities Period, she led online “Chalk of the Day Workshops” to give students creative outlets during their quarantine.

Besides transforming everyday spaces into works of art, Xu draws inspiration from ordinary spaces to inspire her engineering projects. In the process of rethinking a design for the TILT wheelchair attachment that lets users navigate spaces that aren’t wheelchair-friendly, Xu was inspired by the design of traffic lights.

“That’s the artistic side of me coming into. I’m always searching and finding connections between things and trying to find inspiration from everywhere,” Xu says. On arriving at MIT, Xu was willing to explore devices’ health and medical design subjects. She was especially interested in creating solutions that would allow people to be more independent. In deciding on the major she wanted to pursue, she discovered her niche in technical engineering.

“I landed in technical, technological innovation particularly since I understood I’l considerably more energized doing the job tightly with end-users to develop solutions,” she declares. “As a result of my personal history when a painter, Furthermore often imagine in additional natural and also spatial terminology, that manufactured mechanized architectural an excellent fit.”

Xu was enrolled as a flexible engineer in the Course 2A program specializing in medical devices and art, humanities, and social sciences, focusing on the history of architecture, art, and design. In her 2A specialization, she suggested courses that cover the various medical technologies that range from human augmentation to assistive technology to the design of medical implants.

“I like the Study course 2A versatility inside permitting me to concentrate on mechanized architectural as well as going in several of my other likes and dislikes in which aren’t frequently protected inside central architectural courses,” suggests Xu.

Jessica Xu and bloke mechanized architectural person Smita Bhattacharjee (right) by having a very early prototype from the TILT wheelchair attachment during the MIT Legatum Center Travel Grant Presentations in the fall of 2019. Credit Connections between things using TILT.

Xu was a part of MIT’s Therapeutic Technology Design and Development Lab, assistant to research. Under the direction of Ellen Roche, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and W.M. Keck, Career Development Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Xu assisted in designing a low-invasive device for patches that can be placed on a beat heart utilized to administer medications. In the past, she also helped create a delivery system to implant a ventilator that can be used to move the diaphragm of a patient.

“Jessica is a meticulous, creative, imaginative, and skilled engineer who is also a superb communicator. She’s been an absolute pleasure to collaborate in these two endeavors. Her knowledge of the process of engineering design improved the products that our team has been developing,” adds Roche.

In the same year, when she began working with Roche in therapeutic devices. Xu was a part of a mechanical engineering class with Smita Bhattacharjee on TILT. The project started with class EC.720 (D-Lab Design). The project’s goal is to tackle the issue of accessibility for wheelchairs in the developing world, especially in India.

“This isn’t an issue of technical nature. It’s a major social issue. People who use wheelchairs in these areas frequently aren’t able to leave their homes, get an education, get to work, or connect with their community,” Xu says.

TILT provides a solution to the issue of wheelchair accessibility. A pair of ski-like items connect to the wheelchair, making it easy for wheelchair users to glide up and down the stairs. The basic design makes TILT simple to utilize in areas with limited resources, particularly in more costly options like robotic stair-climbing wheelchairs.

“Your time began as being a venture among MIT and American Indian Commence associated with Engineering (IIT) pupils while using reassurance of 1 of your D-Lab Layout instructors,” says Sorin Grama, a lecturer in the MIT D-Lab. “It was a great example of an international collaboration to understand and solve a pressing need in an emerging market, a core tenet of D-Lab.”

Influenced by how traffic lights are mounted, Xu made a critical modification to the TILT’s attachment mechanism. The design was optimized, and the two were joined by a mechanical engineer student Nisal Ovitagala. They began exploring ways to improve production speed at a large scale and create an economic model. They sought assistance and financial support from various programs, including the MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund Program and the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT to develop their entrepreneurial abilities.

The assistance was rewarded when the TILT team received an unspecified amount of $10,000 as a juried award at the IDEAS Social Innovation Challenge in May 2020.

Bhattacharjee, Xu, and Ovitagala are working on the TILT project throughout their last year of senior. Recently, they’ve completed further physical prototyping and ideation, keeping users in the back of their minds. They plan to begin conducting field tests with people who use wheelchairs in India after travel is made secure.

Xu has also explored her love for the democratization of healthcare innovation by participating with MIT Hacking Medicine. In the past, she co-led the event in Building for Digital Health 2021 that featured an event series on technology and hackathons organized in conjunction together with Google Cloud.

Xu is aware of the parallels between her work with medical devices like TILT and how she sees art.

“When we consider art, we can see an idea that is portrayed through the eyes of patrons, artists, and the general public. It is always important to ask what is being excluded, either intentionally or not. What do we miss?” Xu says. “It’s similar to engineering, specifically with medical devices and other projects such as the TILT. When I’m working on solving issues for people I do not have experience with, I have to ask myself what assumptions I make? What blind spots am I missing? What do I miss seeing?”

When she graduates this spring, Xu intends to take on a master’s program to take advantage of her experience at MIT to prepare for a job in the field of medical devices. Whatever her future holds, she is determined to combine her two passions for art and engineering to tackle issues that will improve her people’s lives.

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