ENGINEERING CP1 KK2 JMc3: Human-powered nebulizer earns national recognition

DECK: Senior engineering project five years in the making

Engineering students are well aware of the daunting senior design project that awaits them before graduation. One group of seniors, however, transformed this school project into a nationally-recognized effort to treat patients in third world countries more effectively.

The National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance recognized five Marquette seniors as a top Excellence and Entrepreneurship team for their work on a human-powered nebulizer, a mechanism that delivers aerosolized liquid medicine into the lungs. The group’s prototype features a set of bicycle pedals, which pump air through the nebulizer.

NCIIA awarded the project a grant to support preliminary research in 2005.

The team, made up of Alex Loy, Marissa Naslund, Alex Palutsis, Charlie Shen and Mike Siebert, presented their work at the 14th annual March Madness for the Mind Conference at the Exploratium in San Francisco last weekend.

A total of 17 engineering teams, from schools including Stanford University, Cornell University and the University of California-Berkeley, presented at the conference. More than 60 teams applied. Selection was based on what was most ready to show to the public, said Jill Ivey, a spokeswoman for NCIIA.

“It’s a great opportunity because students can get hooked up with investors who want to further fund their project,” Ivey said.

All 16 schools invited to the conference also created videos advertising their projects for the NCIIA Mind Video Competition. After three weeks of voting with over 4,000 cast votes, Marquette’s team placed second in most-voted videos, falling short to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The Human-Powered Nebulizer aims to treat those with chronic respiratory diseases and acute lower respiratory infections in third world countries, where electricity may be a scare resource. Such diseases are the third major cause of death in developing countries, according to the project’s description.

The device is being tested in communities in El Salvador and South Africa, said Lars Olson, a Marquette biomedical engineering associate professor and team faculty adviser.

Olson hopes the device could cost $25 a piece, with medicine at 15 cents per dose.

“We always want to make it smaller, make it cheaper,” Olson said.

Team member Shen said, “This award definitely is a confidence booster for me, especially with the strong competition we were faced with. But it is also a sign that what we are working on now is on the right track in providing a beneficial service to all those suffering from respiratory diseases.”