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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Engineering Students Volunteer to Test Blood Bank Equipment for Physicians for Peace

A group of Old Dominion University engineering students is working with the Norfolk-based international development organization Physicians for Peace (PFP) to help in the creation of a national blood bank in the country of Mali.

The students' advisor, Stephen Knisley, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and Batten Endowed Chair in Biomedical Engineering, hopes that the partnerships formed this fall lead to a permanent link with PFP, one that provides hands-on experience to aspiring engineers.

"This really is, potentially, a win-win arrangement for all of us," Knisley said.

The relationship with Physicians for Peace began in the spring with a professional contact Knisley made with PFP president Ron Sconyers. The retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general informed Knisley that the organization had received a donation of blood bank equipment from the Red Cross. Physicians for Peace planned to take the equipment to Africa, to help with the creation of a national blood bank in Mali. But the organization first wanted to make sure it worked as intended.

Four students in Knisley's Biomedical Engineering 401 class have spent the fall volunteering their time to test the equipment, making sure it's in working order before being shipped. Starting with learning how the centrifuges and other blood management tools operate, the students have methodically worked their way through it all, making alterations as necessary so that when it arrives in Mali, the medical equipment will perform as intended. The equipment has also been inspected by the local American Red Cross.

"There's definitely a very valuable learning aspect for the students," Knisley said. "At the same time, they're performing a helpful service for Physicians for Peace."

Derrick Jung, a medical laboratory specialist from the Army National Guard, is one of the ODU engineering students who volunteered for the project.

"Dr. Knisley was looking for volunteers to help with Blood Bank equipment," said Jung, an electrical engineering major from Yorktown. "I was interested in the topic because I have worked with blood bank equipment before in the Army." Jung added that it was an opportunity for him to become reacquainted with the equipment and to help PFP at the same time.

Other students who have worked on the project this fall include Robert York, Can Karaoz and Vincent Constantino, all of whom are mechanical engineering majors in the Batten College.

Knisley said he hopes this is the start of a formal partnership with PFP. "To work on this project, we want to build a test bench in their warehouse, so there'll be a place for students to work on future medical equipment. This is the type of project that could ultimately help create an ODU chapter of groups like Engineers Without Borders or Engineering World Health, to assist with problems out in the world.

"We'd also like to engage students from all of ODU's colleges. This is a great opportunity for interdisciplinary teamwork and the kind of activity that gets students interested in making a positive impact in the world."

Knisley sees ODU students benefitting from the partnership, with capstone senior design projects and opportunities to travel and see the results of their work in action. "They can also create innovations, new devices that are useful in the field. That is one of the things we are trying to do in the Biomedical Engineering initiative at ODU. The partnership with Physicians for Peace is a natural fit," Knisley said.

Founded in 1989, Physicians for Peace transforms lives by training, supporting and empowering health care professionals working with the world's underserved populations.

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