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School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

Columbia Launches Design Challenge with Fu School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to Confront Ebola Crisis

The Mailman School of Public Health has joined with the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science for a two-week interdisciplinary design challenge to address the Ebola crisis. Mailman School Dean Linda Fried brought the idea to Engineering Dean Mary Boyce earlier this month, and a subsequent kick-off meeting on October 2 attracted nearly 150 students and faculty from the two schools.

Teams of students and faculty submitted proposals for innovative low-cost, technology-driven solutions that are easily implementable. Initial ideas range from addressing contamination and decontamination, to supporting more effective communications among affected communities to improving transportation and logistics.

“We want to do this rapidly because we’re losing thousands of lives; the time to act is now,” said Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, John Snow Professor of Epidemiology and director of the Center for Infection and Immunity, who introduced the challenge, informing participants of gaps in West Africa’s capacity to treat, prevent, and monitor infections. .

At a series of breakout sessions, teams formulated designs and prepared proposals for a two-minute pitch to a panel of experts that included Drs. Wafaa El-Sadr and Stephen Morse, Mailman School professors of Epidemiology. Together with Lipkin, they provided feedback and helped select the most promising projects for advancement. Teams will continue to refine pitches and will be given support to purchase materials for prototyping. In the final week, the panel will identify the leading design concepts for continued development of deployable solutions.

Comments from the studentson the fast-paced, hands-on approach have been positive.

At the kick-off event held last week, Dr. El-Sadr discussed some of the problems that health workers have faced in treating patients and some of the ways students could try to address these problems.  “Any creative way of disseminating information would be particularly helpful. Communication across the teams is very important. You almost have to have the perfect machinery.”