For many, West Virginia University’s Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering’s senior design expo is a time to breathe a sigh of relief, signaling the end of years of hard work culminating in the presentation of a final project before graduation. For others, it’s a time to help others breathe a little easier.
A group of seniors led by Quinn Jones, a computer science and engineering major from Fairchance, Pennsylvania, displayed their prototype for an aerosol dispersion spirometer, a device that measures how effectively air is brought into the lungs at the semi-annual expo, which was held recently in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.
The idea started when Michael McCawley, assistant professor in WVU’s School of Public Health, spoke to a class about his design for an at-home aerosol dispersion spirometer. McCawley’s design was nearly seven years old and did not take advantage of recent state-of-the-art technology, leaving the device slow and with a major design error that allowed patients to see real-time results, a dangerous feature that could lead to patient self-diagnosis.
McCawley, knowing of a company that was interested in the commercialization of the project if the flaws could be worked out, hoped that students in the class would be interested in taking on the project and turning it into something that could be produced and distributed on a large scale.
Knowing that West Virginians are particularly at risk for lung diseases due in part to high smoking rates and the low density of physicians throughout the Appalachian region, Jones and his group knew that if they succeeded they could change lives.
“When you look at where in the state these issues are happening, its mostly rural counties where there just isn’t easy access to healthcare,” said Quinn. “Having a debilitating disorder is hard enough, but when you factor in the time and money lost on hospital visits, you can see how this device could really help people.”
The device works on observations that healthy lungs bring in gas molecules in a “first in last out” method: during inhalation, the gas currently being brought in has to displace the gas near the entry of the lung into deeper portions. By using aerosolized particles with a light-scattering photometer, the device can count air particles as they enter and exit, characterizing the entire function of the lungs.
The device communicates results to doctors through Wi-Fi or phone lines, a feature that gives patients even in the most rural areas of the state access to physicians. The group also wrote software that doctors will use to access patient information in a secure database.
“Our device’s main advantage is two-fold. Over traditional spirometers that require a lot of effort, our device will cost a little more to produce, but is infinitely more comfortable to use because a patient must breathe slowly and deeply,” said Jones. “Compared to older models that use the same method, our device is significantly cheaper due to advances in computational technology.”
With December convocation looming, Jones will continue to test and perfect the device until the entire group is happy with the product’s performance. After that, a team of professional engineers specialized in prototype projects will design an efficient production workflow and mass production plan.