Little Devices Lab Creates Tech to Improve Global Healthcare

by Kaira Lujan '16, Little Devices Lab, MIT

Winter term 2015 I was working at Little Devices Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The lab is a part of the International Design Center, a collaboration between the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and MIT. The main focus of the lab is to create accessible healthcare tech to improve global healthcare. One of the ways the lab does this is by solving problems using innovative ways to hack existing resources. Some examples of what they have done in the past include creating a solar autoclave (the solarclave) for sterilization in locations off the grid, and designing a foot pump nebulizer for medicine administration (in areas without consistent utility connections).

Walking into the lab one day one was sensory overload, so many interesting things going on in one space. The lab space/area is shared between the Little Devices Lab and the Self-Assembly Lab. In our half of the lab, one wall is dedicated to electronics, another biology, and scattered around are various projects in progress. The other half has a lot of really interesting 3D models and huge tanks of water for self-assembly projects. Over winter break the floor had been redone so everything had been placed on the lab benches. As we moved the projects and materials back into position I had my first overview of what the lab can do.

My background is in biomedical engineering and, for the most part, I have worked in wet lab environments so this was a really exciting new space full of unknowns. I have created a robot using LegoMindstorms, installed and used a desktop mill, created a mini diagnostic test, laser cut parts, and assembled a prototype portable environmental testing kit that will be brought by two of the lab members to a conference in Qatar. It was a diverse introduction to the lab.

Setting up the Othermill, the desktop mill, was exciting because I was the first to use it. After a little struggle getting the kinks worked out I ran through the test program to create a working circuit board with LEDs and engraved with the phrase "Hello World." To assemble it I used a soldering iron for the first time and, while the first few solders weren't the neatest, I definitely improved by the end.

Currently MIT is in its Independent Activity Period (IAP). This is a month long abbreviated term where students can elect to take classes, participate in research, or have a brief internship. Jose Gomez-Marquez and Anna Young, my project supervisors, were teaching a course during this period that they will teach in an extended form later. I created a Vitamin C concentration testing kit and it became a part of a challenge the students had to adapt in the lab which was really exciting.