Fairfield University's School of Engineering honors students with Dean's Award for designing a tool to help individuals with arthritis



Image: Engineering studentsAt the beginning of each academic year, Fairfield University School of Engineering faculty present seniors with challenging design projects. Students are asked to create products or processes that are very much needed in the marketplace but have not been invented yet, such as tools that can be crucial to a segment of the population.

The 2010 Dean's Award - for the design project that stood above all the others this year - was given to three students who created a device to help severely arthritic people open food jars. Stephanie Ambrose, of Syracuse, N.Y., Ken Carroll, of Shelton, Conn., and Brandon Guarino, of Queens, N.Y., received the prize for 'Tools for Arthritics I,' a handheld appliance made in the School's laboratories. They developed it as part of "Senior Design Project I and II," a fall and spring course taught by Jerry Sergent, Ph. D., in which students work in groups to come up with answers to design challenges.

E. Vagos Hadjimichael, Ph.D., dean of the School of Engineering, said the design projects at the undergraduate level, and the similarly themed capstone projects at the graduate student level, put the finishing touches to an engineering student's education. "The projects provide opportunities to the students to work in interdisciplinary teams, to develop initiative and leadership," he said. "Most of all, they sharpen their competencies in problem solving, and in creativity and innovation which are the hallmark of all engineering disciplines."

Image: Engineering designThe winning tool was completed exactly as it was designed and tested perfectly, he added.

Carroll noted the tool also will be of great help to the elderly and those who are frail. "It is a product that can be marketed to those with less than good hand strength, so that could be a wide variety of consumers and it helps them open any kind of jar."

Ambrose noted that a major challenge was creating a device that would not infringe on other engineers' existing copyrights. "There are so many similar products on the market, but we set out to make one that could do the task better," she said.

The students used the School's Objet Geometries' Eden250 3-dimensional printing system to develop a prototype of the device. "It turned out to be so good that there was no need to further develop the product using heavier plastic," said Guarino. "What the 3-D printer produced was our final product made of strong plastic."

The printer, an innovative tool, is able to turn engineering plans and artist's sketches into three-dimensional renderings.

"Students can actually complete an accurate physical 3-D representation of their idea," said Dr. Sergent, chair of the electrical and computer engineering program.

Other impressive designs presented by students included a motorcycle that runs on electricity. Students took out the vehicle's internal combustion engine so it runs on batteries . "It's like a Prius," said Dr. Hadjimichael. "It runs so smoothly."

Another noteworthy invention was a kitchen cabinet retrofitted with a motorized moveable shelf to help individuals who have trouble reaching down to retrieve items, as for example individuals with arthritis. Also, a wheelchair with a voice-activated sensor to initiate commands was viewed by faculty as a worthwhile project that will likely be taken up this fall by a new group of seniors.

Images: The 2010 Dean's Award was given to three engineering students who created a device to help severely arthritic people open jars. Pictured (L-R) are Brandon Guarino, of Queens, N.Y., Ken Carroll, of Shelton, Conn., and Stephanie Ambrose, of Syracuse, N.Y.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on May 26, 2010

Vol. 42, No. 303