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New medical tech projects produced in engineering course

Medical faculty worked with engineering students to develop, test mobile health systems

EVANSTON - In a first-of-its-kind, truly interdisciplinary course, engineering students at Northwestern University McCormick School of Engineering have been working with Northwestern Medicine physicians to develop new medical technologies, including wearable devices.

The students demonstrated the 12 projects they produced throughout the 10-week course during a final class March 9. Watch this video to see some of the presentations, which covered a range of topics, including predicting depression; determining why people sit for prolonged periods of time and how to reduce sedentary activity; alleviating constipation; and monitoring how long parents play with their children every day. Another demonstration will show the association between body temperature and ovulation.

Students presented 12 projects in five-minute, ‘Shark Tank’-like demonstrations

“Our goal was to innovate technology that is ready to go for the medical field,” said Nabil Alshurafa, who created and teaches the course. “More importantly, we want to develop engineers who are able to communicate with faculty in medicine. A lot of times, they speak two different languages, so I thought, ‘how do we prepare our future engineers to collaborate with medical researchers?’”

Alshurafa is director of the HABits Lab and an assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and of computer science at McCormick. He referred to the March 9 demonstration of ready-to-test medical technology projects as the “mHealth Show Down.”

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The class helps train engineers to be able to communicate with faculty in medicine

Nabil Alshurafa
Course creator, professor

Alshurafa said he realized the need to “bridge technology and preventive medicine.” 

“The point of this course is to build and test new mHealth systems, analyze data from these systems and prepare the system and students to work with faculty in medicine in a larger study,” Alshurafa said.

Throughout the course, students learned how to design their study appropriately, incorporate behavioral theory, design new or augment existing hardware and analyze their data.

This is only the second time Northwestern has offered the course, Alshurafa said. There was enough interest in it that it’s been added to the official University curriculum.

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