what the day one project means to us

Leah Sherman, Rice University class of 2018 and Chimwewe Kunje, Malawi Polytechnic University class of 2018 share their experiences developing maternal health technologies with Rice 360⁰.  


We live on opposite sides of the world, but we have a surprising amount in common. We both recently graduated from university, we are both passionate about maternal health, and we both worked on Optoco, a low-cost contraction monitor as undergraduates.  Chimwewe Kunje graduated from Malawi Polytechnic University with a degree in Electrical Engineering and Leah Sherman graduated from Rice University with a degree in Bioengineering, both in 2018. We met in Summer 2016 when we were both doing internships with Rice 360⁰ at the other’s university.

Optoco prototype (summer 2016)

During Chimwewe’s internship, she worked with a team of students from around the world as they began the development of a low-cost contraction monitor. The need for such a device in Malawi is great. Typical contraction monitors are prohibitively expensive, but lack of monitoring contractions can delay treatment of life-threatening conditions, sometimes leading to the death of both the mother and the baby. Chimwewe and her team developed a low-cost, light-based sensor that could detect slight movements.

When Leah’s team began working on Optoco as their senior design project, they used the sensor developed by Chimwewe’s team as a starting point. They then improved on the sensor, built a housing, and developed a contraction-counting algorithm to automate the process, reducing the workload on nurses. Upon graduation, Leah’s team passed the technology on to Rice 360⁰, where work is being done to make this technology commercially available.

It was an honor for us to work on technologies for Rice 360⁰. The technologies that students like us get to work on have the power to save and change lives around the world. Rice 360⁰ creates a path to commercialization, showing the students that, with enough hard work and dedication, their ideas can make a difference. Especially as Mother’s Day nears, it is exciting to think about the potential impact of student-designed technologies like Optoco and others being developed. The technologies developed by Rice 360⁰ can help make the first day of a baby’s life what it should be – one of celebration, survival, and love.

Leah (middle)
Chimwewe (middle in red dress)











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