She loves India, is a die hard fan of the blockbuster Sholay and is an engineer by profession. Mina Hoorfar, professor and director of the School of Engineering, University of British Columbia (UBC), Canada, recently toured international schools in India and conducted workshops on prosthetic hands. In an interview with TOI, Hoorfar, who was voted researcher of the year at UBC, spoke about fostering innovation among high school students, about engineering being more than a profession and the need for a subtle yet impactful transformation in the education system.
She also spoke about her breakthrough research in locating cancer cating cancer cells in 10 minutes, and using breath analyzers to detect diabetes and nab those driving under the influence of drugs. Excerpts:
Can you elaborate on the workshops?
The idea was to instil in students what the engineering discipline is about. Through the concepts of problem-solving, implementing the proto type and modi type and modifying it repeatedly, I wanted them to know how to make a functional hand from a sheet of plastic.It’s all about innovation and thinking out of the box. A good engineer must also be able to sell his product, so we judged the students’ entrepreneurial skills.
What made you involve high school children in the activity?
I wanted to show them the world of engineering through something that could be done in just about 30 minutes. We couldn’t have included the use of batteries.
What was your takeaway from the workshops?
The students came up with so many innovative ways to make the hand look better. The hand I brought didn’t have knuckles; it was flat like a sheet. They created curvature, roughened it, made knuckles and made the thumb more flexible. The competitive spirit surprised me. I realized that students can benefit a lot from experiential learning, which must be encouraged. Instead of following the conventional teaching methods, we must adopt newer ones. Pick the best practices and implement them in the right way .
What’s your take on engineering, which is still perceived a traditional career option?
The system I grew up in gave me only two options to make my parents proud – either I became a doctor or an engineer. Often, students would do engineering (because they were told to) and go on to pursue whatever they wanted. I always wanted to be surgeon but changed my mind and chose engineering. Then I realized how much I enjoyed it.It is more than a profession; it is a school of thought. An engineer gets into finding a solution right away . This practice soon becomes a part of you and you constantly try to improve.
What is your research about?
The biomedical devices include a cancer cell detection unit which reduces the time taken to determine if a patient has cancer or not. Generally, the detection takes longer and extracting blood can lead to the multiplication of cancer cells, causing complications in treatment. The method we deviced allows us to segregate cancer cells and observe them to determine the extent of cancer. It takes barely 10 minutes as against the regular 24 hours.
The other part of the research involves using breath analyzers to detect diabetes.Nowadays, youngsters are more vulnerable to diabetes due to their lifestyles. They don’t like being pricked for blood tests. In case of diabetes, the breath has a distinct odour due to acetone.
The device can also detect the level of marijuana consumed by a person, enabling authorities to crack down on drugged drivers.
Source: Times of India