What do biomedical engineering and service have in common? We asked Rowland Hall graduate Joseph (Joe) Illingworth ’11, whose warm smile and engaging personality made the connection between his desire to help people and his complex biomedical engineering projects a little easier to grasp.
Rowland Hall Alumni Director Mary Anne Wetzel recently met up with Joe to find out more about his latest projects. She asked how and why he had combined his passion for engineering with serving his community. Joe reflected on his Rowland Hall education, crediting faculty, service learning, and strong academics for engendering his desire to help people through math and science.
“I thought for a while about being a doctor, but also loved building things and math,” Joe said, “so biomedical engineering was a perfect fit.”
While a student at Rowland Hall, Joe grew to love creating things through the Make Club, and enjoyed working with classmates in a team environment. Joe also credits his math teachers at Rowland Hall for pushing him to stay involved in the field of math. For Joe, there is an inherent satisfaction in making—the process, as well as the product. He said he enjoys the constant testing to make sure the technology is accurate and durable, and that trial and error is a good teacher. “When you get into research, you fail a lot, so you learn how to embrace that.” Joe said. “That’s what something like the Make Club teaches you—how to fail in a safe environment.”
At the University of Utah, Joe continued his interest in making and joined a team researching tibial fracture patients on the mend. The team is working to solve a common post-surgery contradiction: patients aren’t supposed to put weight on the injured tibia, but without any weight, bone density diminishes and the healing process slows.
The solution? The team is developing a special boot with pressure sensors to indicate the appropriate amount of weight to be placed on the fracture for ideal healing. Used in conjunction with physical therapy, the boot will help doctors adjust that weight throughout the healing process. Joe entered this process in the later design stages, during product testing. Joe and the team are currently correlating various patient data to find the ideal amount of pressure, and the boot is currently in trial at the University of Utah Hospital.
Joe also expanded his interest in developing tech products for market after taking an entrepreneurship class at the U’s David Eccles School of Business. As part of the class, a team of three students—Joe, another engineer, and one business student—were assigned to create a business idea. They came up with a wellness app that takes a holistic approach to health. In addition to health information, their wellness app addresses financial and social needs, and even offers helpful suggestions to users. Joe and his team found those to be important elements missing in existing wellness apps.
Joe and a group of fellow students recently entered Opportunity Quest, a competition which tasked entrants to develop and present a product. The challenge was to create a product for market; draft an executive summary; produce a two-minute video; and make a prototype to present to potentially interested companies. Capitalizing on the demand for wearable technology, Joe and his teammates developed a piece of jewelry—a Bluetooth silicone ring paired with a smartphone app. The ring could have many uses, such as remotely controlling the lights in your home. The app for the ring would interface with an automated home system. A simple tap to one of the buttons on the Bluetooth ring would signal the app on your phone, and voila: lights on! The ring could add many conveniences for people, and as an added bonus, the ring is waterproof, durable, and doesn’t require charging! Joe’s team didn’t win the challenge, partially due to time constraints, but they are still working on the idea and hope to have a fully functional prototype soon. It could be ready for market in several months. Joe said the challenge provided valuable real-world experience in developing an idea through to completion.
Boots, rings, apps—what’s next for Joe? He plans to apply to graduate school and would like to work for a local company in the design and business side of product development. Everyone at Rowland Hall is excited to hear more from Joe and other alumni pursuing their passions. Ms. Wetzel posits that folks at Rowland Hall would surely volunteer to beta test those rings!