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.
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.