Mixing It Up at NJIT: Engineering and Design Students Work Together

Ahmad Qatanani puts an electronic sleeve onto Anas Jaber. The two are part of a mixed team of biomed majors and industrial design majors.

NJIT students like hands-on projects. They like to work in teams. And they especially like it when teams are interdisciplinary -- bringing together students with different majors.

Consider, for example, the so-called Neuro-bridge team. The name derives from the team’s project: The five students on the team are designing an electronic sleeve that fits on a patient’s upper arm and bridges neural signals. The sleeve, inlaid with circuits and electrodes, transfers neural signals from a patient’s strong arm muscles to weak ones. Once completed, the device could be used to rehabilitate patients whose arm muscles have atrophied as a result of stroke or spinal cord injury, or from conditions such as multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy.

The Neuro-bridge team is interdisciplinary, with four biomed majors and one industrial design major. It’s one of nine senior capstone teams comprised of biomedical engineering students and industrial design majors. The teams are a result of collaboration between the Biomedical Engineering Department and the School of Art + and Design. As part of their senior capstone classes, each team must design and build a device to rehabilitate disabled people. They build their devices in customized biomedical engineering labs, with help form faculty advisers and their capstone class professor. 

Having students with different academic majors work together on teams gives them real-world experience, says Bryan Pfister, a biomedical engineering professor who received a grant from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance to support the mixed teams.

“It’s a great idea to combine designers with engineers, adds Pfister. “After the students graduate and start working, they’ll have to work in teams to create devices that function well (the engineering aspects) but are also user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing (the industrial design aspects). And that’s exactly what these student teams are doing. It’s invaluable experience for them.”

Marian Y. Ibrahim, the industrial design major on the team, said she enjoys collaborating with the biomedical students. “It’s beneficial for industrial designers to work with biomed majors to experience the different aspects of design,” Marian said. Engineers and designers work similarly, she said, in that both generate ideas, support the ideas with research and end with a design prototype. But the main difference for her on this project was that the sleeve contained electrical parts. It was a challenged she welcomed, though, since it helped her to expand her design knowledge.

Another member of the Neuro-bridge team, Ahmad Qatanani, said working in a mixed group has been “amazing and unbelievably fun.”

“This project makes all the time and effort we’ve spent in our classes worth it,” added Ahmad, a biomed major.  “I believe that the experience our team accrued on this project will help our future careers. And more importantly, it feels pretty amazing that we are building a device that will help people.”

(By Robert Florida, Office of Strategic Communications)