Bio-Inspired Design – Week 7

This week, the Bio-Inspired Design JBS managed to fit in two awesome field trips: the Franklin Park Zoo and the SIMPeds program at Boston Children’s Hospital!

The zoo took us on a tour of the major sections of the park, explaining facts about the animals as we went along. Although seeing the animals was great, the highlight of the trip was a trip behind-the-scenes in the giraffe exhibit. We climbed up onto a balcony so that we could be face-to-face, and we all got to meet Beau, the zoo’s resident male Masai giraffe!

joint photo

On Friday, the class took a trip out to the Boston Children’s Hospital and took a look at the SIMPeds program. We went into a simulation room in the ICU and saw the training tools that physicians themselves use to practice their skills. Following a presentation there, we walked over to the program’s lab and got a chance to see their enormous 3D-printer, along with getting a close-up look at what they’re printing! This includes things like “skin” for suturing practice: simpeds skin for sutures

The work they’re doing for surgical procedures is even more amazing! If a child comes into the hospital with a uniquely formed skull or heart, a surgeon isn’t likely to have seen something like it before. In light of this, the SIMPeds lab takes MRI and CT scans of those organs and 3D-prints models of them for the surgeons! This gives the surgeons a chance to look over the model and plan out their surgery in much greater detail, hopefully reducing the amount of time the patient is actually in the operating room.

Join us next week as we head out to the Concord Field Station!

HLJ Visits the State House

Health, Law, and Justice JBS students had the opportunity to visit the Massachusetts State House and meet with key legislators and staff members in state health policy.

We learned about current bills before the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing and the Joint Committee on Public Health, as well as the process of passing 2012’s Chapter 224. The students are now experts on Chapter 224, having examined it in class and having visited the Health Policy Commission.

To finish an exciting day, the HLJ students and faculty toured our beautiful and historic State House. We saw the Sacred Cod in the House of Representatives, murals depicting our state’s fascinating history–even Governor Baker’s office! An exciting day for our JBS.

Drumlin Farms

Drumlin FarmsDrumlin Farms

          Earlier this month, the Brandeis Storytelling Brigade travelled to Drumlin farm, a nearby wildlife sanctuary, to tell stories with summer campers between the ages of about 5 and 10. Split into two groups, the campers were regaled with familiar stories as well as those written just for the occasion. The Brigade elicited the young campers’ participation through improvisation and story co-creation which delighted throughout the event. The energy exchange between the children and the Brigade was amazing to watch and be a part of, and we departed hopefully having imparted as much entertainment as we received.

Bio-Inspired Design – Week 6

This week, the adventures of the Bio-Inspired Design class continued with final project discussions, field work, and learning about flight!

The students in the course have now come together in three groups to begin work on their final projects: designing a product that is partly or wholly inspired by a concept found in nature, then building a prototype! Each group is planning something unique, and they’ve named themselves Team Kitchen Aid, Team Suction, and Team Kitten Mittens. We’re all looking forward to what they can accomplish!


The class took a trip out to the Assabet River Wildlife Refuge with Professor Perlman to get an up close and personal look at some of the invertebrate and plant life found in the water! We saw some crazy examples of how to maneuver underwater, like the dragonfly nymph’s jet propulsion, the backswimmer’s backstroke, and the leech’s inchworm-style motion. Professor Perlman was a huge help in identifying the insects we found and showing us where to look, so here’s a shout-out and a thank you to him!

group throw cropped

The class also spent some time going over the physics of flight. We discussed pressure and how an object’s shape can alter the pressure it experiences – leading to a discussion on airfoils and lift! Making a long topic slightly shorter, the unique shape of an airfoil generates lift because the air is forced to move faster over its top than along the bottom. This makes the air below the airfoil have a greater pressure than the air above it, forcing the airfoil upwards! And obviously after learning about creating lift, the class needed to step outside to try out some wing designs for ourselves…and so began the great Bio-Inspired Design Paper Plane Challenge!

Stay tuned for next week as we visit the Franklin Park Zoo and the Boston Children’s Hospital SimPeds Program!

Bio-Inspired Design – Week 5

A shorter week for the program – but an exciting one nonetheless!

Wyss Symp Visit

On Monday, the class was lucky enough to attend the Wyss Institute Symposium on Bio-Inspired Robotics! The day was filled with speakers from across the globe, describing new innovations in the world of robotics: making them softer, smarter, and safer. We heard about improvements in robot navigation and communication from Manuela Veloso and Raffaello D’Andrea – both of whom have participated in the RoboCup: a competition to design teams of soccer-playing robots! Several speakers gave presentations on developments in the field of exoskeleton design, including ones that can increase human performance, skeletons that can be 3D printed for children who are still growing, and even soft exoskeletons that can be worn more comfortably than their rigid counterparts. These topics and more made for an inspiring and educational visit!

Internal Anatomy I

In class, we began working on internal anatomy, focusing on the digestive, respiratory, and cardiovascular systems! The students dissected their dogfish and cats, exposing the thoracic (chest area) and abdominal cavities to get an up-close look at these systems. The differences between the two were striking, obvious examples aside (like gills vs lungs). For example, the dogfish is a type of shark, and as such has a large, fatty liver that it uses to keep itself from sinking! In contrast, the cat’s liver is much smaller, but its digestive tract is far longer than the dogfish’s! Their hearts are different as well: dogfish hearts have only 2 chambers, while cat hearts have 4 chambers, like our own!

Finally, our class had a visit Image of blue downloadable version of the accessible iconfrom Sara Hendren, an artist and design researcher who teaches design and runs the Adaptation and Ability Group lab at Olin College. Much of her work revolves around empowering the handicapped population, enabling them to do what they want and love rather than what society expects of them. She co-founded the Accessible Icon Project, which aims to replace the standard accessibility icon with the more dynamic, active one shown here. The movement has been met with a wave of approval, and institutions across the country are picking it up, including the US Treasury and the Social Security Administration. Ms. Hendren’s class at Olin has also designed specialized equipment for handicapped individuals, including: a portable, collapsible podium for public speakers and a prosthetic arm for a one-armed man who wanted some help with rock-climbing.

Stay tuned for next week, when we continue with internal anatomy and head out into the field with Professor Perlman!