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SCU Engineering News

A shaky start to life inspires senior design research

Simi Olabisi

Bioengineering senior Simi Olabisi had a very personal reason for choosing her senior design project, a solar-powered, low-cost neonatal incubator for use in Nigeria. “I was born a little over two months premature in a Nigerian hospital that did not have incubators,” she said, “Luckily, my father was able to transport me to what, at the time, was the only children’s hospital in Nigeria, running the last few miles to get me the care I needed in time. When I was 14,” she continued, “I visited this hospital and walked the path my father ran. Today, Massey Street Hospital is one of the few children’s hospitals in Lagos State, and though there is no shortage of donated incubators, a lack of constant electricity and the cost of a backup generator prohibit these incubators from being used. Our group seeks to design an incubator that is affordable, easy to maintain and repair, uses an alternative energy source and follows industry standards.”

She and her teammates, fellow bioengineer Katherine Fazackerley, electrical engineering senior Ben Frederiksen, and four mechanical engineering seniors— Collin Burdick, Nick Greos, Kadee Mardula, and Matt Renner—have formed Team Omoverhi (which means “lucky child” in Urhobo, a common Nigerian language) to take on the challenge of improving upon existing designs and give every infant a fighting chance. Nigeria has the third highest infant mortality rate in the world—ten times higher than that of the United States.

The team began their research by observing and testing a top-level American-manufactured model costing more than $30,000, with the goal of reducing the cost to under $2,000 for the solar version. With calculations, research and a preliminary design developed in the fall quarter, they are now building a prototype and testing the mechanical design, electrical power and control system, thermal power and stability system, and a sensor system to monitor infant health, incorporating the use of local materials, and considering the availability of replacement parts, and sustainability of the finished product.

“Nigeria, with its ample supply of solar energy, is a perfect spot to implement this technology,” said Simi, “and it is very rewarding to be able to put my education to use in a way that can help a child like me who needs not only a bit of extra luck to get off to a good start in life, but also a well-equipped medical facility.”