UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering


East Summer School: Engineering Solutions for COVID19

9 August 2021

UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering and UCL Engineering joined forces at the East Summer School in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park this July for an in-person day exploring engineering solutions for COVID19 with local 15-16 year olds.

Students at the Summer School discussing problems

The East Summer School students met with Prof Tim Baker (UCL Mechanical Engineering) who co-led the UCL-Ventura project to rapidly develop and manufacture life-saving breathing aids for COVID19 patients. These devices are now helping to save patients’ lives in over 130 NHS hospitals and over 15 other countries.

“Engineering at its core is fundamentally about how solve problems. It’s these learnings that we applied to create the UCL-Ventura breathing aids” Prof Baker told the room as he shared stories from the early days of the pandemic. As COVID19 infections in the UK began to rise in March 2020, Tim and the Ventura team hunkered down in MechSpace engineering hub, working round the clock to develop the breathing aids and only returning home for the first time five weeks later.

Sara, a student at the Summer School, commented “Before today I didn’t think of engineering as something with such a sense of scale, that could bring people together and help so many people across the world.”

The East Summer School students were then grouped into crack teams of experts, ready to pick apart what manufacturing, regulatory and clinical barriers exist in different countries where the breathing aids were needed. How could these be solved to manufacture or deliver UCL-Ventura devices that could help? The student teams were provided with a resource document on one of the countries from that list such as Palestine, Peru or the UK and, through a series of guided activities, considered potential opportunities and barriers to roll out the breathing aids.

Jacob, another student, said “This has made me think about engineering differently. I’ve realised it’s not just about making the device itself, but it also needs to be about how things are used in the real world. I didn’t think that there could be so many barriers that could stop things actually getting used, and I’m now realising it’s not so simple and it needs to be about the bigger picture too.”

The UCL staff were supported on the day by UCL undergraduate students who have been trained as student tutors as part of a wider UCL Engineering programme to help younger people learn STEM and navigate this stage of their life. Aditi and Pamela are two of our most experienced undergraduate student tutors and were with us at the East Summer School.

Pamela said “My favourite thing about tutoring at the Summer School has been seeing girls in STEM. Listening to them speak about their aspirations to become a mechanical engineer working for F1 or their interests in astrophysics really excites me. It makes me feel like I'm not just chasing a career by choosing my major, but also opening doors for other girls who want to become people making impact across the globe.”

Aditi said “High-school Aditi would have absolutely loved to have the UCL Engineering Summer School experience. Dedicating a day to solve a real engineering problem had many students realizing the depth and complexity to engineering, and how it was ‘more than just maths’.”

The EAST Summer School was organised by the EAST Education team at London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) and the session was led by Dr Fiona Truscott (UCL Integrated Engineering Programme).

Fiona commented “For us on the Integrated Engineering Programme, and throughout the UCL Engineering Faculty, Engineering is all about creative problem solving and the impact we can have on the world. The skills and expertise that the UCL-Ventura team needed to design this life saving breathing aid, and roll it out across the world, are the same ones that we teach our undergraduates.”

“This summer school offered a taste of what engineers do and hopefully some insight into some overlooked aspects of Engineering. For me these sessions are always fun, I love seeing what unusual and creative ideas the students come up with!”