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Kofi Aninakwa (E'11) uses the Summer Scholar program to combine medicine and engineering through the creation of a wearable health monitor.
Medford/Somerville, Mass. [08.12.09] When one door closes, another one opens. At least that has been the case for Kofi Aninakwa (E'11).
Growing up in Ghana, Aninakwa spent most of his youth observing his parents' work lives. With a father who was an engineer and a mother who was a nurse, he developed a love for both careers and had decided to combine them with a degree in biomedical engineering.
"I wanted to find a convergence between the two fields," Aninakwa says. "I had an interest in medicine, but I didn't want to be a doctor. That led me to biomedical engineering."
When he transferred to Tufts last year, however, he learned he had missed the entry exam deadlines and had to change plans midstream.
Switching gears to electrical engineering, Aninakwa hoped the skills he learned would eventually lead him back to his initial interest. Enter the Summer Scholars program, a university-wide initiative that offers research apprenticeships with faculty/clinical mentors to motivated Tufts undergraduates. Thanks to the program Aninakwa spent this summer doing just that by combining the two disciplines through the creation of a wearable health monitor.
"Many people are doing similar projects, but what makes mine different is that we want to make the health sensor so that it can be worn by patients for a long period of time," Aninakwa says.
According to Aninakwa, many of the current health monitors are too heavy to be worn for long periods of time, especially by the sick and the elderly-two groups who need them the most. With a more flexible, lightweight health monitor, Aninakwa hopes his project will aid in saving lives.
"If you have this monitoring system, doctors, nurses and your family members can be informed if there is a problem," says Aninakwa. "It's good in the sense that these people don't have to be around you all of the time, but you can still get the amount of care that you need."
Working with Sameer Sonkusale, electrical and computer engineering assistant professor, Aninakwa has spent this past summer building electrical circuits for this health sensor. One of the sensors utilizes a photoplethysmograph, a device for measuring a vital organ's data by shining a light on the skin and measuring the changes in light absorption. By simply placing a finger in this device, he can determine a person's heart rate.
Aninakwa hopes to continue this research beyond the summer and throughout his time at Tufts, culminating in a thesis project on a flexible health monitor. The material he is now considering developing for his sensor is polydimethylsiloxane, or PDMS, a fabric known for its flexibility.
"When you press on the material PDMS, it takes the shape of your imprint," Aninakwa says. "It could be something like a bracelet, or possibly a band that ties around your finger, much like the photoplethysmograph."
Aninakwa is also studying how to measure galvanic skin response (GSR), the electrical resistance of the skin, and body temperature. All of these measurements are important in determining an individual's current health state.
Although he has just started the project, Aninakwa has already made significant progress building the circuits that will make up the sensor. And he has already learned that the lines between disciplines at Tufts are not hard and fast.
"I haven't regretted choosing electrical engineering. You can move to other fields," says Aninakwa. "I found out that if I wanted to go into medicine or even mechanical engineering, I could start with electrical engineering and branch off from there later."