Promoting STEM with experiments based on bioengineering
Christopher James speaks about his new project BME (Bioengineering Mobile Exploration)
STEM education has gained a great awareness over the last years, having more and more teachers engaging with activities that enhance student’s knowledge on science – technology – engineering and mathematics (STEM). Through STEM education students develop their creativity, critical thinking or analytical skills, but also a variety of skill sets, including the 21st-century skills: media and technology literacy, productivity, social skills, communication, flexibility and initiative.
One engineering field which is currently on the table due to COVID-19, is bioengineering.
Christopher James, is a Biomedical Engineer. He is an academic from the University of Warwick, United Kingdom, who has been a member and volunteer with IEEE for over 25 years. As well as volunteering within IEEE Region 8 he is also a volunteer within the Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS). Furthermore, he is a member of IEEE Region 8 Professional and Educational Activities subCommittee (PEASC) and he is the chair of the Publications and Communications Ad-Hoc subCommittee of IEEE Region 8 . He is also Director of a start-up company called EMbody Biosignals Ltd. Keeping his focus on bioengineering, a new project was born, promoting STEM to the younger generation but also to the general public, through a moving van fully equipped with experiments based on bioengineering field, and technological material for someone to engage and interact with.
IEEE Region 8 Today had a very interesting and educational conversation with Christopher which follows below, presenting you BME (Bioengineering Mobile Exploration).
What is Bioengineering?
Bioengineering (or biomedical engineering in full) is about the application of engineering principles to solving problems in biology and medicine. The management of health, and nowadays more increasingly, managing wellness, is driven by innovations in technology – biomedical engineering is engineering a healthier and longer life for all.
BME (Bioengineering Mobile Exploration) Pod is a project of yours. How did this idea come up and which is its mission?
BME pod is designed to create an exciting and innovative way to promote STEM to the younger generations and the general public at large. The idea is to create a mobile platform that can go to a variety of places where it is needed and thus can spread the message to various locations, demographics and people with vastly differing economic backgrounds. BME pod will take the form of a “cool” sleek looking van, its very look will generate curiosity and intrigue in all that see it. Once at a venue, the BME Pod crew will engage with end users through various activities, experiments and demonstrations, specifically these will all be based around biomedical engineering technology. The inside of the BME Pod will look like the cockpit of some futuristic health bay, an end user sits reclined, interacting with technology that not only monitors vital health signs, but allows fantastic futuristic interaction with technology like eye-tracking and brain-computer interfacing technology. The question is – why biomedical engineering? The answer is that from a STEM perspective there is not a better, more engaging subject area than BME which involves physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics etc. – besides everyone relates to health and wellbeing.
There is however a second part to BME Pod’s contribution – the ‘Pod will be designed, delivered and manned by a team of undergraduate engineering students – in fact through successive teams of undergraduate engineers students, as the creation of the ‘Pod will be in the hands of successive final year undergraduate engineering group project students. The design of electrical/ solar/ communication/ display subsystems will be part of the training of the undergraduate students. Then there is the design of the payloads within BME Pod – the BME experiments, as well designing the lesson contents, matching the technology, the curriculum, teachers’ aids etc. BME Pod provides a complete package for the undergraduate engineers, the younger generations and the public at large.
How is bioengineering science presented through BME Pod?
The science and technology is used to interact with individuals seated in the “cockpit” of BME Pod, these will interact with various bits of technology – not only understanding how, say, physics, electronics and computer science can detect and display her resting heart rate through ECG, but also controlling a drone or a robot through brain activity alone. Whilst seated – with one of the ‘Pod crew – people gathered outside can see what is happening on large screens outside the van, guided by other members of the crew – as well as interacting with hand-held pieces of kit developed by the ‘Pod development team.
How does BME Pod engage with STEM education?
BME Pod is designed to be exciting, cool, “space-ship” like – it is designed to provoke curiosity, to get people asking questions before the engagement has even taken place. The BME technology in the ‘Pod will be designed to address specific areas of STEM education, with teaching notes designed for each experiment or demo highlighting the STEM behind each.
If I get it right, BME Pod is a moving hackathon and you are counting in its futuristic design to attract as many students as possible. Is that it’s superpower?
Essentially yes – not so much a hackathon in that the technology and experiments are relatively fixed or rather will change but will change slowly over time as new teams taking over the design and development of the ‘Pod. There are also plans to have schools compete to create an experiment to take on board the ‘Pod – although it would be better if we found a less “competitive” way of getting input from schools – in order to not disadvantage any schools through lack of access to funds or otherwise.
Which is the current status of the project and which are the available ways someone can get involved?
The project is past the initial creation and planning stage and I am now trying to establish the project in reality – this means fundraising to allow the infrastructure to be created – essentially purchasing the van in the first instance. Some funds have been secured through my own company EMbody Biosignals Ltd. initially and through my university, and I am applying for STEM funds from public funding bodies. I have created an explainer video to help explain the concept and to help fund-raise – so at this stage I am looking at getting input from people with ideas more generally, as well as around getting funded specifically.
You are a very active member of IEEE and IEEE EMBS Society. Is any Organizational Unit of IEEE assisting you in some way in this project?
So far IEEE is not involved specifically however I would love to change that – with so many like-minded individuals in the wider IEEE family I am sure the sky will be the limit in the creation of the ‘Pod and its future. Certainly, once up and running I intend to create a student branch/chapter on the basis of the ‘Pod and the interest it generates. In the meantime if any chapter, section, or any other OU of IEEE wants to talk and I am available and happy to talk.
Closing question: What message would you share with our readers?
Whilst this is still at the idea stage, I have little doubt that BME Pod will become a reality – I truly believe I just need to keep the message out there and all the pieces will fall into place. I think that STEM outreach is part of who we are as engineers and also specifically as IEEE Volunteers, so I encourage everyone to think about how each and every one of us might contribute to STEM, and also to think outside of the box, think fun and think exciting – that is good for all – volunteers included.
Further details of BME at https://www.bmepod.org/