Engineering 100 students design prototypes aimed at smarter opioid control

April 19, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On Jan. 10, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf declared the heroin and opioid epidemic a statewide disaster emergency. According to data from the Drug Enforcement Agency, the number of fatal drug overdoses in Pennsylvania in 2016 was 4,642, a 37 percent increase from 2015. This increase is attributed to the number of fatalities caused by fentanyl and other similar opioids overdoses.

Though overdoses are often caused by the result of illegal drugs and opioids, the misuse of legal prescriptions continues to rise.

To combat Pennsylvania’s opioid epidemic, Christopher McComb, assistant professor of engineering design and mechanical engineering, challenged his EDSGN 100 students to design and prototype a user-centered product or service aimed at smarter control of opioids. The product or service would ensure prescriptions are consumed at the right time, at the right dosage and by the right person.

“Engineering exists to serve humanity, but as a first-year student with a full load of coursework, it can be easy to lose sight of that fact. I challenge my students with real-world problems to serve as a constant reminder that engineering should be human-centered,” McComb said. “By choosing problems that are relevant to the state of Pennsylvania, I also want to empower them to think about how they can use their skills to improve their community."

Throughout the first nine weeks of the spring semester, McComb’s students worked to identify the problem at hand, generate product and service concepts, select a concept, create low-fidelity prototypes, design beta prototypes, evaluate their prototypes and present on their findings. 

Student teams created products which include fingerprint-reading prescription bottles and social-security locked prescription bottles.

Everett Michel, a first-year engineering student, worked on the team which designed and prototyped a pill bottle that can only be opened using a fingerprint scanner at prescribed times each day.

Michel said he feels McComb’s design practicums have provided him with an advantage that a traditional exam can’t — the ability to apply the engineering design process and to retain more information.

By presenting the students with a real-world problem currently facing Pennsylvania, McComb helped to expand Michel’s understanding of the influence and impact engineers have on the world.

“This project opened my eyes to how engineers are not confined to certain roles in society. We can be a force for change or improvement in almost any field,” Michel said. “Engineering is not just about simply building things or even designing a physical product. Engineers come up with all sorts of things that improve our society in more ways than just one.”  

  • Two students presenting a project at the front of a classroom

    After completing their eight-week opioid epidemic project, EDSGN 100 students presented their prototypes to McComb and their fellow classmates.

    IMAGE: Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 20, 2018