497-233: Real World R&D Experience: Creating and Marketing Advanced Instrumentation for Biomedical Scientific and Engineering Research

Meeting Day/Time
Thursdays from 5:00 to 7:40 pm
The Orgel Laboratory & Coleman Foundation
Joseph Orgel (BIO) (orgel@iit.edu)
Appropriate Majors
Applied Math, business, computer science, engineering (electrical, computer, biomedical), and science (physics, biology, chemistry) and other interested students are welcome

The experience of this IPRO project as described by a previous student:

“This IPRO is the closest you will get the real world experience before actually being thrown into the actual industry.”


I learned about the microscope and R&D process and learned something more valuable while doing so.

Student description of their experience:

This IPRO is advertised as a short-term prototype development project. When I signed up for it, it seemed simple; go in, create the device and be done. Looking back at the project now, yes, I learned a lot about the development of a 3D high definition microscope, but that knowledge wasn’t the main takeaway. I learned so many things about the R&D process and the management of my time and my team. An entire semester seems like a long time for a project; until you are down to the final 3 weeks and the project isn’t done! With this specific IPRO though, the emphasis on documentation, clear timelines and objectives slowed down the semester and made sure that the final due date didn’t surprise you.

This IPRO is the closest you will get the real world experience without before being thrown into the actual industry. It’s frustrating and exciting all at the same time. When we hit our deadlines it was great and when it took 3 weeks to just turn ‘on’ the prototype, it was not so great. However, that is exactly what we are signing up for later in life. Learning how to manage that timetable and those obstacles now has already influenced how I work through projects and assignments.  This IPRO couldn’t have been more valuable to me and there really are few other ways to experience what this class taught me.

Project Description

Please note that joining this IPRO team requires a permit. This is straight-forward, please feel free to contact Professor Orgel (orgel@iit.edu) or Tom Jacobius (jacobius@iit.edu) to share your background, what interests you about this project, and how you feel you might contribute toward team and project success. They will make a quick decision to permit you or not.

The light microscope has been a cost effective instrument in observational science for centuries, but there are some situations where using visible light as a tool has its limits, forcing investigators to use much more costly alternatives. However, most users of the instrumentation do not have the skills that would enable them to make the most effective use of this instrument or unlock its full potential. Some of these issues include but are not limited to:

  1. Difficulty in seeing through translucent or opaque materials;
  2. Difficulty in seeing objects behind other objects;
  3. Difficulty in imaging and focusing a 3D object onto a 2D plane; and
  4. Distinguishing edges as the object size approaches the wavelength of light being used.

However, there are approaches that can be used to augment what we can already do, for instance: fluorescence microscopy, UV-microscopy, phase-contrast microscopy and digital reconstruction. Each of these approaches can greatly improve imaging power, and even more so when used in conjunction; however, each method requires specific design considerations.

Given the above opportunity, this IPRO project emulates that of a research and design company where the R&D participants work with and share responsibility for research, design, technology development and market research. Considering that the global microscopy market is projected to be worth ~$6 billion by 2019, investors will be motivated to contribute to a well-researched plan with prototype technology on the bench…. as long as they are presented in a well-substantiated and actionable plan to capture an enticing share of that market. Therefore, in addition to the understanding needed to create a novel technology, the participants as a team, must understand who will want to buy it, why, where they are, and what design considerations will sell better versus the cost of design and production.

The IPRO team will benefit from the experience of the Orgel research group in building an in-house ultra-high resolution microscope through an open source approach. This collaboration will greatly bolster the analytical capabilities of the student team, and help ensure that at the end of the project they have a functional and potentially marketable instrument.

The objective of this IPRO project is to design, implement, and market a system or systems of novel light-microscopy instrumentation and interpolation software that may represent commercially viable products. This approach is cheap and accessible compared to existing systems, which typically can cost upwards of $5,000-$100,000 and have esoteric and inflexible programming which limits their usefulness for the average lab. Therefore, ease of configuration and expansion for later improvement is crucial for both cost and operating effectiveness. The Orgel lab already has a prototype and parts in hand to instruct from for the IPRO class. This base gives a strong start to the team and helps ensure a beneficial and fluid experience during the rapid prototyping stage.

Based on the above design principles already established, the IPRO team will specify and assemble the components to make the working base instrument while familiarizing themselves with the design and seeking insights into improvements and customization related to the target market. The methods begin with digital reconstruction (super resolution + back projection + 3D reconstruction + thresholding) of the base platform and later move on to fluorescence, UV, and Phase-contrast microscopy as time allows.

The team will be organized in several team work modules, with students participating in more than one module. The team will make the decision on how these modules are put together under the guidance of the instructor/s, for instance:

  1. Sample setup and microscope base design, construction, and prototyping.
  2. Instrument control system, electrical design, and implementation of prototyped designs integration.
  3. Optical systems, equipment and integration with 1, 2 and 4.
  4. Data analysis design and software implementation.
  5. Data collection, sample management and market research for: (i) product placement, (ii) possible valuation of technologies, and (iii) identification of competing technologies.

It is assumed that students joining this IPRO team collectively have a foundation of scientific, engineering and business knowledge of the various technologies and skills represented in this IPRO. It is not assumed that any one student will have all of these skills or possibly any of them, at the start of the project. They will likely have at least a foundation by its conclusion.

Knowledge, skills and experience in the following are an asset to the team and will be developed further through this IPRO experience: knowledge of Arduino or other/ microcontrollers, basic knowledge of stepper motors and how to use them, experience/aptitude with open source software, (for instance OpenJ), knowledge of optics, fluorescence, and compound microscopy, experience with wiring electronics such as circuit boards or LEDs, and CAD experience.

The interdisciplinary team of engineering (e.g., electrical, computer, biomedical), science (e.g., physics, biology, chemistry) and other majors (e.g., business, applied math), complemented by faculty and staff associated with Dr. Orgel’s research lab, will form small task orientated teams that work on each of the modules (1-5) while keeping the team as a whole updated on their progress at the weekly progress meeting and via updates of a closed (invite only) social media group. It is anticipated that any one student may play a role on more than one tax group in order to assure that there is sufficient task support and there is natural and effective cross-team communication.


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