A young, eager mind is a powerful thing. A room full of them together, even more so. In Rice University professor Maria Oden’s undergraduate course, they’re striving to solve global health problems. Students in the Rice 360 program, founded by Oden and fellow bioengineer Rebecca Richards-Kortum, first learn about problems in rural hospitals and then design simple solutions that can help. One of the class’s biggest successes is a student design for an affordable “bubble CPAP” (continuous positive airway pressure), a device that pushes air into the lungs of premature infants to help them breathe. The prototype was made from a plastic shoe box and two aquarium pumps. “One of the wonderful things about working with 18-year-olds is that they’re so creative,” Oden told Joe Palca of NPR. “They don’t have fixed ideas about what might not work.” After fine-tuning, the invention was tested at small hospitals in Malawi and is now ready to deploy throughout that country. Students even got to meet a baby whose life was saved by their device. “It sent chills all the way down my entire spine, because I realized that while we’re teaching students, and we want them to leave here believing they can make a difference, this was the picture of a true difference being made,” Richards-Kortum told NPR.
What Started as Homework Turned Into a Life-Saving Medical Device