Taylor Made: Potato cars and stem cells
This year’s Engineering Open House had everything from the now-famous talking dog collar to innovative algae experiments. The recently renovated Everitt Lab hosted a plethora of medically-influenced exhibits, including many from the Biomedical Engineering Society (developers of the aforementioned collar).
One exhibit on display from BMES was called the “Vein Finder.” As its name suggests, the handheld device was designed to help clinicians find veins in “tough-to-stick” patients (patients whose veins are not as visible under the skin). The vein finder projects light at 620 nm into the skin; this particular wavelength, orange-yellow on the EM spectrum, can penetrate skin and fat layers, but not deoxygenated blood. As a result, the veins appear as dark shadows in the lit skin. Equivalent devices currently available are often bulky and can cost upwards of $500; this handheld prototype cost less than $50 to manufacture using skin-safe PLA (polylactide, a biodegradable thermoplastic).
BMES also had an exhibit that talked about the healing properties of stem cells, especially in the case of lacerations. The human body typically does not experience perfect wound healing; the skin over healed wounds is said to be on average 70% as strong as unadulterated skin. From a design standpoint, some of our biological processes are not realizing full efficiency—and as with virtually any design, the future holds potential for improvement. While we may never see the improvements brought about over time by the continuation of evolution, many of us can benefit in real time from stem cells and other medical research. In the case of lacerations, hormones naturally released in the wound environment trigger stem cells to behave like tissue-specific cells, leading to accelerate healing and reduced presence of scar tissue.
Another strong and steady presence at EOH has been that of automotives, not only from our numerous teams but also in exhibits from individuals and outside contributors. Ford brought out one of its recent Le Mans racers, which for me was a real treat to see up close. Ford has a history of racing its GT in the 24-hour Le Mans endurance race held near Le Mans, France. Le Mans is said to be the world’s oldest active sports car endurance race, and is one leg of the unofficial Triple Crown of Motorsport (along with the Indy 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix). The race breaks down into two categories, both under the acronym LMGTE (Le Mans Grand Touring Endurance): pro, for cars raced by manufacturer teams, and am, for cars raced by private owners.
Ford produced its original GT, called the GT40, from 1964 to 1969. The GT40 dominated Le Mans, with four consecutive wins in the late ‘60s before going out of production. Ford brought its supercar, now shortened to “GT,” back into production from 2004 to 2006 with the goal of beating out Ferrari’s equivalent mid-engine sports cars (it did). The GT came back into production once again in 2016, winning the 2016 Le Mans pro class in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the GT40’s first victory. The GT took 2nd in 2017 and 3rd in 2018, and will compete in the Am class for the first time in 2019.
At a different point in the automotive spectrum, there was an exhibit in MSEB displaying a self-driving potato. The potato acts as the salt bridge between copper and zinc electrodes to create a battery. Power from the potato feeds into an energy-harvesting circuit; energy is then transferred to a capacitor, which, when full, discharges to the motor to drive the wheels. The exhibit’s potato was set on a chassis with a tricycle configuration, meaning that, like most high-end sports cars, it had rear wheel drive. Fun fact: boiled potatoes make better batteries than raw potatoes because cell membranes are broken during the boiling process, making ions more readily available.
Congrats to all on another successful EOH, and here’s to next year!
All photos by Taylor Tucker.