Every thing is a canvas for senior Jessica Xu. A prolific artist, Xu has explored numerous media together with pen and ink, coloured pencil, and watercolor. In her time at MIT, she has expanded her horizon past conventional media — turning locations on campus into artworks.
As a first-year pupil, Xu painted a mural within the tunnels beneath MIT’s campus by means of the Borderline Tunnel Mission. Afterward, she collaborated with UA Innovation to rework the “Banana Lounge” with pupil mural artwork. Throughout this 12 months’s Unbiased Actions Interval, she co-led digital “Chalk of the Day Workshops” to offer college students with an inventive outlet throughout quarantine.
Along with reworking on a regular basis areas into artwork, Xu attracts inspiration from on a regular basis areas for her engineering work. When contemplating a redesign for TILT, a wheelchair attachment that permits customers to navigate areas that aren’t wheelchair accessible, Xu was impressed by the design of visitors lights.
“That’s the inventive aspect coming in. I’m all the time wanting round, discovering connections between issues and attempting to attract inspiration from nearly anyplace,” Xu says.
Upon coming to MIT, Xu was desperate to concentrate on subjects associated to well being and medical system design. She was notably drawn to creating options for folks to stay extra independently. When deciding what main to declare, she discovered her dwelling in mechanical engineering.
“I landed on mechanical engineering specifically as a result of I spotted I’m rather more energized working carefully with finish customers to develop options,” she says. “Due to my background as an artist, I additionally are inclined to suppose in additional bodily or spatial phrases, which made mechanical engineering a very good match.”
Xu enrolled within the versatile mechanical engineering Course 2A program with a focus in medical gadgets and a humanities, arts, and social sciences focus in historical past of structure, artwork, and design. For her 2A focus, she proposed an inventory of courses exploring a spread of medical applied sciences from human augmentation to assistive applied sciences to designing medical implants.
“I actually love the Course 2A flexibility in letting me concentrate on mechanical engineering whereas additionally diving into a few of my different pursuits that aren’t recurrently lined within the core engineering courses,” says Xu.
Fall of her sophomore 12 months, Xu joined MIT’s Therapeutic Expertise Design and Improvement Lab as a analysis assistant. Beneath the steering of Ellen Roche, affiliate professor of mechanical engineering and W.M. Keck Profession Improvement Professor in Biomedical Engineering, Xu helped design a minimally invasive supply system for a patch that may very well be positioned on a beating coronary heart and used to ship medicine. Extra not too long ago, she helped design a supply software for an implantable ventilator that actively strikes an individual’s diaphragm.
“Jessica is a methodical, inventive, and proficient engineer and a very good communicator. She has been an absolute pleasure to work with on these two tasks. Her mature understanding of the engineering design course of enhanced the gadgets our workforce has been engaged on,” provides Roche.
The identical semester she began working with Roche on therapeutic gadgets, Xu joined fellow mechanical engineering pupil Smita Bhattacharjee engaged on TILT, which started at school EC.720 (D-Lab: Design). The mission hopes to handle the dearth of wheelchair accessibility in creating areas, notably in India.
“This isn’t only a technical drawback, it’s an enormous social drawback. Wheelchair customers in these areas usually can’t simply exit their dwelling, go get an training, go to work, or simply interact with their communities,” Xu says.
TILT provides an answer for the dearth of wheelchair accessibility. A pair of ski-like objects attaches to the wheelchair, enabling somebody to simply assist wheelchair customers glide up or down stairs. This easy design makes TILT simple to make use of in areas with restricted assets, particularly in comparison with costlier options corresponding to robotic stair climbing wheelchairs.
“The trouble started as a collaboration between MIT and Indian Institute of Expertise (IIT) college students with the encouragement of 1 the D-Lab Design instructors,” provides Sorin Grama, a lecturer at MIT D-Lab. “It was a fantastic instance of a world collaboration to grasp and resolve a urgent want in an rising market, a core tenet of D-Lab.”
Impressed by how visitors lights are hung, Xu made a essential redesign of TILT’s attachment mechanism. With the design optimized, the pair was joined by one other mechanical engineering pupil, Nisal Ovitagala, and so they started to discover learn how to greatest ramp up manufacturing at scale and develop a enterprise mannequin. They sought assist and funding from packages together with MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund Program and the Legatum Middle for Improvement and Entrepreneurship at MIT to enhance their entrepreneurial abilities.
This help paid off because the TILT workforce was awarded a $10,000 juried grant on the IDEAS Social Innovation Problem in Might 2020.
Bhattacharjee, Xu, and Ovitagala have been persevering with work on TILT all through their senior 12 months. Most not too long ago, they’ve labored on additional bodily prototyping and design ideation with the consumer expertise in thoughts. They hope to begin area testing with wheelchair customers in India as soon as journey turns into secure.
Xu has additionally explored her ardour for democratizing health-care innovation by means of her involvement in MIT Hacking Drugs. Most not too long ago, she was the occasion co-lead for Constructing for Digital Well being 2021, which featured a tech speak sequence and a hackathon organized in partnership with Google Cloud.
Xu sees parallels between her work on medical gadgets, together with TILT, and the way she views artwork.
“After we take a look at artwork, we see an concept that’s portrayed by means of the lens of the artists, the patron, the tradition at massive. We all the time must query what or who’s ignored, both consciously or unconsciously. What are we not seeing?” Xu says. “It’s the identical with engineering, particularly with medical gadgets and tasks like TILT. Once I’m engaged on addressing issues for those that I haven’t got the lived expertise of, I all the time must query: What assumptions do I’ve? What blind spots do I’ve? What am I not seeing?”
After graduating this spring, Xu plans to pursue a grasp’s diploma to construct upon the work she has performed at MIT in making ready for a profession within the medical system business. Regardless of the future holds, she plans on combining her twin passions of engineering and artwork to resolve issues that enhance the lives of others.