Diana Voronin
Diana Voronin
Second Place, Grade 6-8, 50 Years of Engineering in Society Essay Contest, 2014
Hillsborough, NJ
Engineering a Healthier Future

    Technology can change immensely in just fifty years and there is no better example than that of the improvements in the area of health. Cochlear implants now allow the deaf to hear, artificial hearts allow patients to survive the wait for a heart transplant and surgical robots result in minimal recovery time and maximum accuracy. All of these technological improvements can be contributed to engineers whose job it is to make the impossible possible.

    One advancement was the development of the cochlear implant, which allows the deaf and severely hard of hearing to understand simple sounds and speech.  Sounds that are picked up by a microphone are arranged by a processor and converted into electrical impulses that are sent directly to the auditory nerve of the brain by an electrode array.  As with most technological advancements, engineers played an important role in creating the cochlear implant. Electrical engineers designed the microphone and electrode array system that sends electrical impulses to the auditory nerve of the brain, while computer and software engineers designed the speech processor which arranges sound picked up by the microphone into speech.  Furthermore, biomedical engineers found a location for the implant that would allow it to bypass the damaged part of the patient’s ear.

    Another improvement was the invention of the artificial heart to extend life by up to six months for patients with severe heart failure.  One type of artificial heart, the AbiCor,  is a complex system driven by a hydraulic pump, powered by an external battery that the patient wears on a belt, and controlled by a controller located in the patient’s abdominal wall. While mechanical engineers designed the complex hydraulic pump driving the system, computer and software engineers programmed the controller to correctly control the patient’s heart beats.  Additionally, electrical engineers designed the external battery for maximum power and efficiency.  Finally, biomedical engineers studied the way the real heart works in order to most accurately mimic the process in the artificial heart.

    The invention of the surgical robot is another beneficial development.  By using a computer console and joystick controls, a surgeon can control robotic arms upon which surgical instruments and cameras are attached.   This system enables a doctor to make minimal incisions, resulting in shorter recovery time for patients. In the case of the surgical robot, computer and software engineers programmed the robot to respond to the doctor’s movements through the joystick.  Equally important, both mechanical and biomedical engineers worked together to design robotic arms that could perform many types of operations on the patient’s body.

    Given the points above, society’s past fifty years have been rich in advancements made by engineers and as technology improves, there are sure to be more in the future fifty years to come.  One example of a future breakthrough could be the development of an autonomous surgical robot.  Doctors could diagnose the patient and then program the robot by choosing from a database of programs for different type of operations.  The robot could also be programmed to adjust the surgery depending on a person’s unique health condition or body measurements.  Mechanical engineers would design the robotic arms and computer and software engineers would create the database of programs.  Furthermore, biomedical engineers would ensure that the robotic arms could perform different types of operations on the human body.

        The development of more effective medicine is also a possibility for the future.  Some pathogens in a patient’s body can become resistant to drugs, and thus, live to attack the helpless patient again and again.  In order to combat this problem, biomedical engineers can study how drug resistance occurs and how it spreads.  Then, chemical engineers can use this information to create hybrid treatments that consist of an antibiotic mixed with a drug that would destroy the pathogen’s defense mechanism.  Therefore, a patient could be treated quickly and effectively without the risk of strengthening surviving pathogens.

    Another advancement that could be made in the future is the invention of an artificial intelligence system that successfully mimics the human brain.  First, biomedical engineers would have to study how the neurons can create networks of communication with many other neurons. Then, computer and software engineers could create a computer that mimics these and networks and thus, is able to quickly run computations, just as neurons do.  An advanced artificial intelligence system could be beneficial in tasks such as simulating the interaction of proteins in order to design or test drugs. An artificial intelligence system could also help doctors correctly diagnose a patient when the diagnosis is unclear.

    Engineers have brought society many technological advancements in the area of health, including the cochlear implant, the artificial heart and the surgical robot.  In the future, engineers may bring society autonomous surgical robots, improved medicine and advanced artificial intelligence systems.  While people can only speculate about what the future will be like, they can be sure that engineers will make it an amazing one.

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