Skip to main content

Biomedical engineering competition stresses real-world challenges

April 12, 2007 By Renee Meiller

Part of a unique curriculum infused with real-world design opportunities, a new competition for University of Wisconsin biomedical engineering undergraduate students places an even greater emphasis on applying their engineering knowledge to actual problems in biology and medicine.

The Tong Biomedical Engineering Student Design Awards reward biomedical engineering undergraduate teams that design innovative solutions and develop outstanding prototypes. Their work addresses real challenges that University of Wisconsin medical and life sciences faculty and area biomedical companies face and offer for the students to solve.

The inaugural competition will take place May 4, when nearly 150 biomedical engineering students will display posters and prototypes of medical devices and innovations that they have designed and refined for a semester or more.

These inventions-among them, a bioreactor for tissue engineering, a system for reliably calibrating a cardiovascular catheter to measure internal blood pressures, and coatings that may reduce infections from urinary catheter use-showcase student initiative, ingenuity and creativity.

"The BME program itself has a heavy emphasis on getting students to really understand the problems they're trying to solve-versus just coming up with a solution that may not work at all for the clinical environment," says UW–Madison electrical and computer engineering alumnus Peter Tong, who via the Tong Family Foundation sponsors the competition.

A panel of six external judges will evaluate the student designs and prototypes based on their technical merit, functionality, appearance and construction, and adherence to client requirements. One student team from each class-sophomore, junior and senior-will receive a Tong Biomedical Engineering Design Award.

In addition, a follow-up award will provide funding and employment for up to two students to further research, develop and protect their designs in collaboration with a biomedical engineering faculty member. "A prototype is probably one of the most essential tools for engineers to validate whether what they have in mind is practical," says Tong. "Particularly for entrepreneurs, who are going to raise capital to do what will fulfill their dreams, if they have a feasibility model, or a 'good prototype,' they probably will have a higher chance to raise the capital they need."

The Tong competition contributes to the department of biomedical engineering culture of integrated education, discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. The department is home to the only biomedical engineering undergraduate program in the country that provides real-world design projects every semester for every biomedical engineering student, says Professor Robert Radwin, the biomedical engineering department chair.

"Creating new medical instruments, making the world accessible to people with disabilities, or developing new therapeutic devices requires that we educate engineers in multiple disciplines, foster innovation, and instill a strong command of design," he says. "The department of biomedical engineering has taken up that challenge by educating a new type of biomedical engineer who is equally adept in engineering and the biosciences, and who is skilled in applying their knowledge through the process of design."

Several past projects have been very successful and have led to some unique, patentable designs, says Radwin. "Every year, a number of biomedical engineering student design projects are accepted by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation for patenting and licensing," he says. "At least one recent project has already spun off into a startup company. I anticipate that this process will be greatly accelerated through the Tong follow-up awards."

The students' efforts culminate in a final presentation at the Biomedical Engineering Student Design Expo, a public event that offers each team the opportunity to demonstrate and explain its project and to participate in the Tong competition. The expo is set for May 4 at noon in the Engineering Centers Building on the UW–Madison campus. The Tong award ceremony will begin at 4 p.m.

Prior to the expo, the fifth annual BME Translational Research and Design Conference and Expo will feature five faculty presentations on translational research funded via the University of Wisconsin Coulter Translational Research Partnership in Biomedical Engineering. The conference keynote speaker, Dr. Scott Augustine, CEO of Augustine Biomedical + Design, will give a medical entrepreneur's perspective on designing devices that improve patient outcomes. For a complete schedule, visit

Enjoy this story?

Read more news from the College of Engineering