Rice teams win global health design competition

Rice teams win global health design competition April 5

Two Rice University teams — Smooth Saline and Sphygmo — shared top prize in the Rice 360° Institute for Global Technologies‘ and Beyond Traditional Borders’ annual Undergraduate Global Health Technology Design Competition April 5.

The competition, which is in its third year, drew 22 teams from 17 U.S. universities as well as two teams from Jimma University in Ethiopia — the competition’s first international student participants.

Global health design competition winners

From left, Becky Zaunbrecher of Smooth Saline; Maria Oden, director of Rice's Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen; Kathleen Wiest and Jessica Williams, both of Smooth Saline; and Andrew Badachhape, Lauren Luo, Ananta Subramanian and Emily Eggert, all of Sphygmo.

Smooth Saline, which also took first place earlier this month in Rice’s annual Undergraduate Elevator Pitch Competition, won for its multiuse catheter flushing system that minimizes the risk of saline contamination while reducing costs by at least 50 percent.

Sphygmo won for its solar-powered blood pressure monitoring system for ambulatory patients. This device automatically and periodically measures blood pressure and alerts patients and staff with auditory and visual alarms if levels are dangerous.

“This year’s competition was a big success,” said Rice 360° Executive Director Lauren Vestewig Gray. “It is so inspiring to see the incredible work that undergraduate engineers around the world are doing to develop innovative global health technologies. The participation of the Ethiopian teams and the on-site participation of faculty from Jimma University were a milestone this year.”

This marked the first year that all 20 judges in the competition were drawn from outside of Rice. Four of the 15 judges were from Ethiopia. They were Jimma faculty members Kora Tushune, Bheema Lingaiah and Esayas Alemayehu, as well as Kidest Hailu, country director for the American International Health Alliance Twinning Center.  The Ethiopian experts participated thanks to funding from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Centers for Disease Control-South Africa. Alemayehu’s presentation on water purification technologies in Ethiopia was also a highlight of the day’s events, as was an evening keynote by Andrew Ellington, the Wilson M. and Kathryn Fraser Research Professor in Biochemistry at the University of Texas at Austin.

Competing teams were judged on how clearly they articulated the global health need that their technology sought to address, as well as on the technical and social feasibility of their proposed solution. Judges also considered each team’s plan to overcome technical and social hurdles associated with their technologies. The Jimma teams competed via pre-recorded videos that were six minutes or less — the same time allotted to teams presenting on-site.

This year’s winning teams were:

First place – Sphygmo and Smooth Saline, both from Rice.

Second place – Little Gasp, Tulane University, and Woven Solutions, Clemson University.

Student’s choice — IncuLight, Wright State University.

Best poster – Otoo, North Carolina State University.


About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.