Rothberg Catalyzer at Choate

On April 8, the inaugural Rothberg Catalyzer annual competition was held at the Lin i.d. Lab at Choate Rosemary Hall. Three teams of students worked collaboratively from 8:00 a.m-7:00 p.m., in a marathon all-day session, to find solutions to the problem of emergency medical relief during disasters.

Sponsored by Dr. Jonathan Rothberg P '17, '19, founder of medical device incubator, 4Catalyzer, and recipient of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the competition is envisioned as an interschool challenge that brings together teams from Choate, Yale, Brown, Penn, and Carnegie Mellon University in a human-centered design hackathon challenge that aims to "catalyze" new ideas for improving and transforming human lives.

For this year's challenge, students were asked to focus on some important aspect of the human experience in disaster situations, and to propose effective solutions that might improve the conditions or effectiveness of disaster relief. Each team was required to produce a functional prototype for their proposed solution.

There were more than 20 Choate students on three teams participating in the hackathon. One Choate team produced a prototype they named the "Earthvest." Their device was made similar to a life vest, but connected to the internet with "smart" sensors, a GPS tracker, and BlueTooth capabilities that could report back valuable information about an individual's location and/or vitals in the aftermath of an earthquake to a base station.

A second team invented a new pediatric medical device called "ReBuild-A-Bear." They framed their design problem by noting the lack data surrounding the 100 million children displaced by man-made or natural disasters each year. For this most vulnerable population, they created a friendly and comforting stuffed animal that included important bio-sensors and data collection devices that would help medical professionals during an immediate disaster crisis or even prolonged displacement. Included in the team's business plan was a pitch to the Build-A-Bear Company and the American Red Cross, which already has an ongoing partnership to provide stuffed animals to families when disaster strikes.

The third team identified their project as a device that would assist with service distribution and create peer-to-peer data contact more quickly. Their product lends a helping hand, and so they named it "H.A.N.D." Health Aid for Natural Disasters. Impressively, this team produced two distinct prototypes, different form factors for a portable medical dispensary with electronic fingerprint sensors that identify victims in need and enable dispensing of identification wristbands and first aid items, such as water pills or bandages, for immediate assistance until health workers arrive on the scene.

Students made their elevator pitch to a panel of four judges who evaluated each team's understanding of the problem, solution concept, effective demonstration of solution, quality of prototype, and innovative use of technology. It was a close competition but "ReBuild-A-Bear" won the challenge. Says Sabastian Chacon '19, "The 'ReBuild-A-Bear' used several devices available at the i.d. Lab. The central system of the bear was a microcomputer called an Arduino Uno which allowed our group to add various sensors to the bear such as the temperature sensor, heart rate sensor, WIFI board, BlueTooth board, and audio board. The bear itself was purchased at Walmart. The waterproof sleeve for the electronics was hand-made by team members Esther An '21 and Aarthi Katakam '21." The team envisions adding more sensors to the bear that could help detect a child's brain activity and/or blood pressure. The inclusion of a mini touch screen, for instance may also be useful for immediate readings. Says Chacon, "The more biodata the bear collects, the more valuable information is available to medics."

The judges felt the "ReBuild-A-Bear" team most closely aligned with 4Catalyzer's founding mission "to create products that will have a significant societal impact and change the lives of people we love." The team will represent Choate, the only high school, invited to compete with catalyzer teams from Brown, Penn, Yale and Carnegie Mellon at Brown University on June 2, in a final of the interschool competition.

Says i.d.Lab director and mentor to the project, Dr. Travis Feldman, "This day saw the embodiment of collaborative learning in the i.d.Lab, where students were challenged with understanding real world problems and finding their own best solutions to those problems.They worked together; many tried soldering, using sewing machines, using the laser cutter, several were programing Arduino and R-PI for the very first time, learning in-the-moment as they needed to accomplish things, and feeling the empowerment of being able to try new things, learn new things, and work towards the goals that they had set for themselves. I am very proud of what the students achieved, and I am thankful that Choate is a community where we can bring together a diverse group of faculty and students to a voluntary all-day event that poses truly challenging problems. It was great to see everyone energized by the effort of working in teams to find their own unique solutions."