Q&A with the capstone winners of 2020 Most Innovative Project

Four young adults — one woman and three men pose for a photo outdoors.

The Fung Institute’s Most Innovative Project Award is awarded to the capstone team that most effectively demonstrates the relevance of the problem they are trying to solve, the originality of their proposed solution, and the potential of their project’s impact. In this year’s online showcase, two winners were selected by MEng alumni, based on the teams’ video pitch or print project brief submissions. The recognition for best print project brief goes to the Precision Freezing 3D Bioprinter for Large Scale Tissue Engineering capstone team.

Project Overview

The organ shortage for transplants is a growing problem all over the world. Bioprinting could be a solution to this. However, current attempts at 3D printing biological materials are encumbered by the slow rate of the process and the “soft” nature of the material. Previous “successes” have only yielded objects no larger than a dime, as both the tendency for these materials to collapse and the need to preserve any cells limit the 3D printing process.

The team designed a level-controlled cooling bath to precisely freeze biomaterials as they are printed. This provides the bioink with the structural integrity needed to support larger structures and ensures living cellular material is preserved. This new approach allows for larger printed structures than previously possible. The bath is designed to maintain a constant temperature by flowing cooling liquid within its walls. Ultrasound sensors and a thermistor are used to respectively control in real-time the level and the temperature of the cryogenic fluid.

We had a chance to speak with the capstone team members Alex Wolcott (BIOE), Martin Banet-Rivet (ME), Pablo Amor (ME), and Ruobin Liu (ME) about their experience.

How did you define the scope of the capstone project?

“The scope of the project was defined in our first meetings with both our advisors, Professor Rubinsky and Gideon Ukpai of the mechanical engineering department. During these meetings, we agreed to build a system allowing for real-time freezing of the material being printed, but we also agreed that if the project was going fast enough, we would push the project further. Unfortunately, the pandemic stopped us in our tracks when the project was almost over.

What was your most significant teaming challenge & how did you tackle it?

The team did not face many internal challenges — everyone seemed to enjoy working with each other and we all had a great time! However, we are a very diverse team with members from all over the world, and we thus have a lot of different skills. This was helpful when it came to the technical parts of the project, but it somewhat slowed down our teaming efforts.

What was your most significant project management challenge & how did you tackle it?

Although the team never fell behind with deliverables, we did struggle at times with splitting up tasks and not stopping the entire team’s progress when we hit certain unexpected bottlenecks. Thanks to the advice from our advisors and good team communication, we were able to implement team processes in which each member had more concrete responsibilities while maintaining everyone informed of any progress or roadblocks.

What was your most significant technical challenge & how did you tackle it?

We had a lot of small technical difficulties, like leaks in our crafted bath. We expected that not everything would fit with our original theories. Since we knew that we were going to run into such problems, we were able to fix and address them pretty quickly.

Have you had a capstone project in your undergrad and, if so, how has this capstone experience been different?

One of our members, Pablo, had a similar capstone project experience during his undergraduate degree. However, the main difference is that the MEng capstone teams were composed of multidisciplinary teams of different types of engineers with different technical backgrounds. It was definitely great to learn how to work with a team of people that are each an expert in a different field but have to work together for a common goal.

You probably had a number of course-based projects during your MEng year. How is the capstone different?

The most important difference would be time management and how the capstone project was supervised. Once the problem was defined, we could solve it however we saw fit and had the entire year to do so. This gave a lot of room for trial and error until we found solutions that worked. It seems — from what we can tell — much closer aligned to what working as an engineer in the industry can feel like.

In addition, the level of resources available to us through the capstone projects was considerably larger than in normal class projects. This really allowed the creative and engineering freedom to create groundbreaking solutions to problems that matter.”

“It was definitely great to learn how to work with a team of people that are each an expert in a different field but have to work together for a common goal.”

Edited by Lauren Leung

Connect with the team: Alex Wolcott (BIOE), Martin Banet-Rivet (ME), Pablo Amor (ME), and Ruobin Liu (ME)

Learn more at funginstitute.berkeley.edu

Master of Engineering at UC Berkeley with a focus on leadership. Learn more about the program through our publication.

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