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Year 12 students compete to design surgical device for reconstructive surgery

TTP plc challenged Year 12 students from Long Road Sixth Form College, Hills Road Sixth Form College and Comberton Sixth Form to design a medical instrument for use in facial reconstructive surgery. This was based on a real-life project where TTP developed an innovative device that is used by surgeons to treat patients with a facial disfigurement due to cancer or an accident. This project day is part of the Cambridge LaunchPad programme, which provides young people with an opportunity to gain hands-on experience, challenge perceived barriers and spark an interest in STEM.

The students were selected from applicants who had submitted short videos analysing the ergonomics and usability of objects from everyday life, including handles, buttons, switches and actuators. TTP aimed to provide these students with an insight into the day-to-day role of a consultant, including the product development process and how such technology can change lives.

Dr Abi Graham, Experimental Physicist at TTP plc, said:

“This is a great opportunity to provide students and schools with an insight into industry, as the classroom environment can be limiting in terms of creation and innovation. We want young people to be excited by STEM in real life and learn how it can be used in life changing ways, for example in medicine. Through our activities, the students have been able to identify strengths they didn’t know they had, find out about real jobs and work in a team with peers from other schools.”

The activities kicked off with an exercise to understand some of the challenges faced with the current instruments used in facial reconstruction procedures and why they are not meeting surgeons’ needs. The students then worked collaboratively to research and brainstorm new designs and produce prototypes to test whether the instruments provided the combination of strong grip and fine positional control needed.

Stuart Jessup, Computer Science & Physics Teacher at Hills Road Sixth Form College, said:

“It has been amazing to watch the students enthusiastically at work designing a device to help surgeons improve outcomes for their patients. I was particularly impressed by the creativity and teamwork that stemmed from working on a real problem supported by the structured process provided by the TTP team. The day provided the students with experience of STEM in the real world, but I was also struck by the relief it seemed to give them from the more curriculum driven, exam focussed approach that their A Level studies entail. “

Their designs ranged from using pressured reservoirs or a foot pump to reduce hand fatigue, scissor-style or pistol-shaped devices to improve wrist posture, interchangeable one-use pieces to reduce the risk of cross-contamination and use of thermal imaging to enable the surgeon to guide needles beneath the skin more easily.

Chelsea, Year 12 student at Comberton Sixth Form, enjoyed the opportunity to learn more outside of the classroom.

“I want to work in medicine, so I thought it would be good experience to apply for this and see the other side of medicine compared to doing work experience in a hospital or doctor’s surgery. I’ve enjoyed taking part and it’s been interesting to understand the issues that surgeons experience with their equipment. I’ve loved working with new people, bouncing off them, using their personalities and their ideas to improve my ideas.”

The teams were mentored and judged by consultants from across TTP, who also shared their personal experiences of working in STEM and their individual career pathways.

Vidhya Sridhar, Electronics Engineer at TTP plc, shared her experience as an ambassador

“I wanted to get involved with this important initiative to give young people hands-on experience in a work environment with real consultants, which is an opportunity I wish I had when I was at school. It’s been great to understand the age group better, see what they think and how we can get them into engineering. I hope the students enjoyed themselves and have learnt how to apply the skills they’ve practiced today and in school.”

Throughout the project day, the students were judged on their teamwork, creativity and presentation skills as well as how well they understood the surgeons’ needs and incorporated this in to their device designs.

Anne Bailey, Co-Founder and Director at Form the Future CIC, said:

“Cambridge LaunchPad can benefit companies like TTP by enabling their employees to improve their leadership skills and giving them an opportunity to design and deliver activities related to their day to day work and bring STEM to life. Project days can help companies to increase brand awareness amongst young people, particularly those who may be keen to become employees in a few years’ time!”

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