Video production is not typically a skill required of biomedical engineers. But at Drexel University, undergraduate students within Dr. Kara Spiller’s Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering class are enthusiastically adapting new learning paradigms.
In typical engineering courses, a group design project including a presentation is the final assessment. Dr. Spiller replaced the presentation component of the assessment with a video pitch. Students within the course then uploaded their videos online to Acclaim so that they could watch, provide feedback, and vote on other groups’ videos.
Within the video, students were asked to “sell” or “pitch” a biomaterial they designed for the project. A biomaterial is any material or substance, such as a prosthetic, implant, or drug delivery system, that performs, aids with, or substitutes for one of the body’s natural functions, A biomaterial can also be a substance that allows researchers to test prospective cures to diseases in artificial situations.
The winning group included Sonam Chheda, Josh Cige, and Jason Sedlak, along with three other students. They pitched a biomaterial that they called a“ bonafide invitro prostate cancer tumor replicant,” and adapted a script from a Billy Mays infomercial.
Their video, which received 48% of the class vote for best video, is available here.
The idea of an engineer “pitching” a biomaterial may seem absurd to someone unfamiliar with the field. But as Dr. Spiller’s students explained to me, learning how to “sell” a product is a core component of their experience at Drexel. ACCLAIM had the opportunity to ask the students a few questions about their idea and the video:
ACCLAIM: Is a tumor replicant something which could really be manufactured?
Jason: The idea is from existing literature.
Josh: It’s purely theoretical. But technically possible.
ACCLAIM: Tell us about the project.
Jason: Usually for design projects, groups imagine an improved form of a prosthetic or crutches, or a drug delivery system. These are all direct solutions to problems. But in Dr. Spiller’s class, we designed a product on which you can test more solutions.
Sonam: We chose to model our biomaterial after prostate cancer because it is very difficult to test treatments for it. Prostate cancer is also very costly and effects a large number of people. 223,000 people will contract it this year alone.
Josh: Existing models only help with late stage cancel. Mice don’t actually contract prostate cancer, and they’re expensive. When you put cells on a petri dish in a lab, the reactions you get are not realistic. We wanted our product to be as representative as possible of what is happening in the body.
ACCLAIM: How did this project help to prepare you for professional research and presentations?
Josh: We had to address a clinical problem, investigate how many people it effects, and determine if it is worthwhile to find a solution. We had to ask business plan questions, and make financial projections. We learned about what it takes to design a product, test it, and get it to market.
Sonam: It’s integral to understand if the product is viable. Can it get through FDA regulations? How much of an impact will it create?
Jason: If there’s no money behind it, it won’t happen.
Sonam: Drexel encourages students to license technology. If the students are ready, Drexel wants our products out there.
Josh: This helps to get us in the position of being ready to work
Jason: Drexel students get things done quickly, and they are known for it.
ACCLAIM: This is a really engaged project, and the video is fantastic!!! Do any of your have a film production background? What about acting? How did you film it?
Jason: I have some experience. I filmed it on my smart phone. My friends who are film majors thought the angles were brilliant
Sonam: Josh is just naturally hysterical. But the Billy Mays script was available on the internet.
ACCLAIM: How did creating a video compare to giving a presentation?
Sonam: You have to prepare much more in advance, and work harder. But it was also more fun.
Josh: We don’t typically get creative outlets in our engineering classes, so it was really fun for us.
Sonam: It was also really nice to watch other students’ videos on your own time, and it was helpful to us to have students come to class prepared with suggestions.
ACCLAIM: How did the group collaborations change your class experience?
Jason: For the presentation, we were eager to meet up
Josh: It was a labor of love
Sonam: There were people who did straightforward presentations of their products. They were really dry
Jason: There was no benefit to watching them.
Josh: Our video has over 100 views on YouTube.