Imagine this: a highly qualified group of 29 medical school students, engineers, and citizen scientists dedicating an entire Saturday to finding the next big innovation that will improve the human condition. That was exactly the scene at Carle Illinois College of Medicine’s first ever “Make-a-thon.” The day-long event included Illinois medical students, students from other colleges across the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and members of the Champaign-Urbana community all of whom gathered at Everitt Laboratory to contemplate the theme of the day: a “health mirror.” Participants were asked to brainstorm a solution to a simple question: “What if healthy living was as simple as looking in a mirror?”
The day began with opening comments from Dr. Martin Burke, Associate Dean of Research at Carle Illinois. Participants were split up into teams, each comprising of medical students and at least one citizen-scientist from Champaign-Urbana. Participants enjoyed working with a citizen scientist, who, according to Surbhi Jain, a graduate student in Biochemistry, “offered a fresh new perspective that had the power to turn our whole project around.” The day’s featured guest speakers were Arielle Rausen, founder of Ingenium Manufacturing, and Adeel Akthar, founder of Pysonic, who delivered compelling and inspirational stories on the importance of continuous innovation in medicine and how they were driven to start their respective companies. And with that, the rest of the day belonged to teams, who gathered in workspaces across Everitt Lab to collaborate, ideate, and conceptualize a product or innovation that would act as a “health mirror” to address medical concerns.
The Health Mirror theme was purposefully designed to be broad and to encourage a free-range of thought and imagination amongst participants. When asked about the prompt and why he chose to participate in the make-a-thon, Carle Illinois College of Medicine student Anant N. said, “Health is equalizing, and so it was cool to be part of an event that gave me the opportunity to work in a dynamic team and explore possible new innovations.” After spending the majority of their day developing their ideas and practicing their pitches, it was finally time for the teams to present their ideas. The room was buzzing with excitement and intrigue as the participants gathered for the pitch session.
The panel of judges included professors from the College of Medicine, clinicians from Carle Foundation Hospital, entrepreneurs specializing in cutting-edge medical devices, and representatives from the healthcare industry. With only five minutes to pitch their ideas and three minutes of rapid-fire questions from the judges, the pressure was on for the teams. And they delivered! In the true spirit of Carle Illinois, these future physician-innovators had built ideas that seamlessly integrated technology with addressing medical issues. The ideas pitched ranged from various devices designed to read and prevent tremors in patients with Parkinson’s Disease, to Smart Baby Monitors that can detect signs of autism and prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, to a medical social network that allows the user’s loved ones to remotely monitor the health of the user. Make-a-thon participants were able to come up with these ideas in just a few hours–a testament to the passion everyone shared for using engineering to revolutionize medicine.
With such groundbreaking ideas and a Health Maker Lab Coin at stake, the competition was fierce and judges faced a tough decision. Awards for the winners were $1,000 for 3rd place, $1,500 for 2nd place, and $2,500 for 1st place and a coin granting them access to the Health Maker Lab. Should the winning team accept the coin, they’d be granted $10,000 worth of access to the University of Illinois’ Maker Lab, high-tech spaces that have 3-D printing and 3-D modeling capabilities, metalworking facilities, nanomanufacturing, computational softwares, and so many other specialized technologies and capacities. Having decided, the judges re-entered the room, bright smiles on their faces. Dr. Burke, whose contagious energy brought everyone to the edge of their seats in anticipation, took the stage to announce the winners. “First Place… is team four, Health Concierge!” The room erupted with applause and laughter, and Zach Meade, a Carle Illinois student, overwhelmed with pride and happiness, jumped out of his seat and sought out his teammates all over the room for high-fives and well-deserved congratulations. Zach and his team’s idea was the “Health Concierge”, an online database that would reduce waiting room times at doctors offices and process patient information and data in real time. As the team joined Dr. Burke on stage, they still had one big question to answer: “Do you choose to accept the Health Maker Lab Coin?”
“Yes, we do!” the team exclaimed and handed the token to their citizen-scientist, a symbolic gesture to thank him for sharing his perspective and participating in the event.
The day ended with congratulations all around, light mingling amongst participants, judges, and guest audience members. When asked if they would participate in another event like the Make-a-thon in the future, several students and community members replied “Absolutely!” Fortunately for them, they won’t have to wait long, because Carle Illinois College of Medicine is planning another Make-a-thon, this one on a much grander scale than the first, for the spring semester. Carle Illinois’ vision is to expand the event and encourage teams and individuals from not only campus, but the Champaign-Urbana community to submit their ideas. Some of the winning ideas will be invited to a similar event as Saturday’s for final pitches and awards. The goal of the Health Mirror Make-a-thon was to encourage design thinking and give students and community members the opportunity to build ideas that could eventually become prototypes through the Health Maker Lab. But, the event, due to the enthusiasm from participants, mentors, and judges, succeed in accomplishing so much more than that; It started a campus and community-wide conversation on the expansive possibilities that open up and lay waiting to be explored when the science, engineering and patient care dimensions of medicine intersect to improve the human condition.