IBBME Discovery Program stimulates high school students to explore the science behind prosthetics

Most students start their university studies in the fall, but a group of keen high school students got a taste of post-secondary education ahead of schedule.

On May 24, the University of Toronto’s Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering (IBBME) hosted 60 senior science students from George Harvey Collegiate Institute (GHCI) at a symposium to showcase research posters that presented their own ideas on prosthetics challenges and design acquired over the past year.

“This was a student-driven initiative and their work has really impressed us. I have never seen them work so hard and for so long on a given project,” said Edward Scherer, a teacher from GHCI. “Our students have been given an opportunity to learn in an environment that they would have never been exposed to and they have shown us that they are capable of doing a lot more than we imagined.”

The posters are the result of the Biomedical Engineering Discovery Program—a high school outreach initiative developed collaboratively by IBBME graduate students, faculty and staff in partnership with teachers and students at the local school.

Over the past year, program leads worked directly with GHCI teachers and students to formulate this year’s program focus: The Science behind Prosthetics.

Teams of four were then created and each of the groups were guided by an IBBME graduate student mentor to develop experimental protocols that merged prosthetics design with topics presented in the biology, chemistry or physics class they were enrolled in, such as “Investigating bacteria prevention on prosthetics” and “Knee brace mechanics.”

GHCI students were then hosted in IBBME’s Teaching Laboratory and Design Studio over two days in the academic year to seek out answers that helped them create their research poster results.

“Biomedical engineering is an underexposed field at the high school level,” said Locke Davenport Huyer, a PhD candidate and co-lead of the program. “My team and I felt that their experience could be enhanced by engaging teachers and students to build a unique learning program together.”

GHCI students discuss their prosthetics design.

The students could not have been more thrilled by the opportunity.

“This has been a great program because it gave me the chance to experience university life and the state-of-the-art facilities in it,” said Rachel L., a biology student at GHCI.

“We were given the opportunity to work with real bacteria culture and the lab technology required for this kind of experimentation,” added Leticia B., Rachel’s project partner.  “These resources are not available in our school.”

The symposium invited IBBME’s Undergraduate Summer Research Program (USRP) students to provide feedback and evaluations for the GHCI student posters—an opportunity that will one day help them understand what conference judges might be looking for in their own presentations.

Undergraduate Summer Research Program (USRP) students got a chance to evaluate poster presentations, helping them to understand the peer-review process common to research.

“This forum has provided a host of different learning opportunities for students at three stages of studies: from graduate students on program development, undergraduate students on the peer review process, to high school students who are getting university exposure,” said Professor Dawn Kilkenny, IBBME’s associate director of undergraduate programs. “It is my hope that each student group will reflect and learn from each other in this unique setting.”

Professor Jan Andrysek gave the symposium’s keynote address on ‘Rehabilitation technologies targeting physical activity and mobility globally.’

The symposium closed with a keynote address by IBBME professor and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital scientist Jan Andrysek who presented his team’s work on Rehabilitation technologies targeting physical activity and mobility globally.