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National Science Foundation Grant Will Benefit Students and Mobility-impaired Individuals

For release: August 28, 2012
For press information, contact Curt Guenther, 901-678-2843

Dr. Joel Bumgardner
Dr. Joel Bumgardner

A grant to Dr. Joel Bumgardner, professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Memphis, will not only help educate students in a number of fields, but will ultimately be of benefit to persons who are mobility-impaired.

The $111,490 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will partially fund undergraduate student design projects that aim to assist people with general or age-related mobility disabilities.  Other U of M professors who worked with Bumgardner  in obtaining the grant and who will be instrumental in organizing student design projects are Dr. Amy Curry, Dr. John Williams and Dr. Warren Haggard.

The project will involve biomedical, mechanical or electrical engineering students, as well as clinicians and healthcare providers, who will work together to design or improve, and construct, custom devices to aid persons with mobility impairments.  Special emphasis will be placed on persons who require assistive devices that might otherwise be cost prohibitive or not available.

The U of M’s Office of Disability Resources for Students, Mid-South Access Center for Technology, and Center for Rehabilitation and Employment Research will also be involved, plus the Physical Therapy Department at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Campbell Clinic, and CFI Prosthetics & Orthotics.

Upperclassmen will be responsible for designing, creating and delivering the devices, and freshman engineering students will work in an ‘intern’ capacity with the senior design team and the outside partners.  The project is also expected to involve students in the University’s Helen Hardin Honors Program.

Bumgardner said the projects will not only give the students real-world challenges to hone their engineering skills, but will provide an important community service.  He said that the project proposal builds on past experiences, in which students designed assistive devices for individuals with mobility issues, including a hip brace to prevent hip dislocation after total hip replacement, an elbow orthosis for a young girl with a rare musculoskeletal disease, and a custom basket for the mobility scooter of a U of M student.

“This program will not only enhance engineering students’ education,” said Bumgardner, “ it will also help people with mobility disabilities to achieve greater self-sufficiency and a better quality of life and to reach their maximum potential for enjoyable and productive lives, which is good for them and for society as a whole.

“For the students, it will provide learning opportunities that are not normally part of the engineering curriculum, and it will promote biomedical and engineering careers in the areas of rehabilitation and assistive technology.”

Bumgardner also hopes to attract students to the program who are from traditionally under-represented groups in the engineering field, such as women and African-Americans.  He said the program will be encouraged and promoted through such means as the Herff College of Engineering’s “Girls Experiencing Engineering” summer program, MemphiSTEP and the NSF STEM Talent Expansion Program.

The grant will be distributed over a five-year period.  It will cover the costs of the materials the students will need to complete their projects.

For more information, contact Dr. Bumgardner at 901-678-3733.

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