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About Sickkids
About SickKids

December 11, 2012

Not your average Science Fair: teens build robot prototypes for brain surgery

MedTech Challenge participants demonstrate their medical robots in a final challenge
MedTech Challenge participants demonstrate their medical robots in a final challenge

The MedTech Challenge at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) took your average Science Fair a step further. There weren’t any volcanoes, potato electric conductors, or Styrofoam solar systems - this fair was all about medical robots!  

The MedTech Challenge is an education program that challenges high school students to design, build and operate neurosurgical robots. On December 1, six teams put their creations to the test and revealed the working prototypes to parents, teachers, doctors and engineers.

Top honours were awarded to Akshaya Sekar, William Boldac and Ryan Lu for their innovative design and successful completion of the challenge.

Each team of four showcased their working prototype and completed the final challenge of drilling into a model paediatric-sized skull to administer medication through a needle into a grape (simulating a brain tumour). The robots were judged by a panel of professionals based on innovative design, performance and ease-of-use.

“Providing students with a clinical context gives their work a sense of importance. The systems we develop for patients are not unlike those developed by the students and their ideas could have an important impact,” says Dr. James Drake, Chief Neurosurgeon at SickKids. “This challenge is a great way to entice students into biomedical engineering and brings a fresh infusion of talent into a world-leading industry.”  

Every Saturday for six weeks, the students used LEGO MindStorm Kits with a variety of medical tools and a medically-focused robotics curriculum to complete this challenge.

“The program provides students the opportunity to create imaginative solutions that can help solve real clinical problems,” said Santosh Iyer, Program Founder and Graduate student at SickKids. “Not only have the students learned new skills, but they also gain the self-confidence to approach new challenges and opportunities.”

The program is hosted by the Logics Academy, the Centre for Image-Guided Innovation & Therapeutic Intervention (CIGITI), and Kids Science at SickKids. Open to all high school students in the Toronto District School Board, the MedTech Challenge teaches engineering and medical technology, while fostering young talent, valuable skills and self-confidence.  

“The challenge itself has many of the important components they will face in the real world including, working in imperfect groups, taking advantage of everyone’s talents to maximum effect, working under tight deadlines, having to present in front of a large audience and having to promote the positive features of their project,” says Drake.