As a child, Chi hwan lee always had Lego sets on his birthday list. Lee, who loves math and physics, would spend hours building the sets – following the instructions as well as his imagination.
This imagination and these Lego pieces have become the building blocks of research at Lee’s Purdue University, which focuses on converting items such as contact lenses and prosthetic hands in specially designed smart devices electronic stickers to measure vision loss or to simulate the feeling.
From solar cells to biomedical applications
Lee, Leslie A. Geddes Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Purdue Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, says his passion for creating and assembling items continues to grow, thanks to Purdue’s entrepreneurial and collaborative environment.
While his initial research involved developing additive manufacturing processes to convert solar cells and sensors to become flexible and even portable, it was during his job interview at Purdue that faculty members him. asked if he had ever thought about using his solar cell work in a biomedical setting.
That moment was pivotal for Lee, who now has a joint appointment in the School of Mechanical Engineering and a courtesy meeting in the School of Materials Engineering.
âAll of these discussions have been very productive. The Purdue faculty looked at the technology I was working on and encouraged me to explore applications that I had never dreamed of, âsays Lee. “Purdue has a perfect environment for me to do these interdisciplinary collaborations.”
This engaging culture in Purdue and the surrounding community helps Lee stay creative and allows him to collaborate with academic and medical researchers, physicians, vets, entrepreneurs and businesses around the world.
âThe collaboration and my research are aimed at solving the world’s great problems together. It’s a very satisfying job, âhe says.
Lee’s main focus now is on developing platform technologies using sticktronics, which are sticker-like items that contain electronics or smart technology. He is also specialized in custom printed flexible medical sensors and conformable sensor arrays, all of which can transform telemedicine and on-demand drug delivery systems.
Sticktronics provides the ability to physically separate materials from existing items and turn an item into a sticker which can be more flexible or transparent, especially on curved displays and biomedical sensors.
âYou can change the form factor from stiff and stiff to flexible and stretch,â says Lee.
Lee also points out to fellow researchers and the more than 20 students from all academic levels who work in his lab that making the best devices requires listening to end users: patients, doctors, nurses and other providers.
âOnce there is a clear clinical value and need, and there are a lot of talented people out there, all other things are minor. Everything else is natural, âhe says.
Have a vision to save people’s sight
Lee was invited to lecture at a seminar led by Dr. Pete Kollbaum at Indiana University School of Optometry in August 2018 on his biomedical work and what optometrists and physicians should be considered regarding clinical device needs.
Intrigued by his research, Kollbaum has since partnered with Lee in the development of contact lens technology that can diagnose and monitor eye medical conditions such as glaucoma. Kollbaum is also director of the Borish Center for Ophthalmic Research at Indiana University. In addition, Lee invited other researchers from various medical schools to explore this technology.
âThere is a clear clinical need to study and research glaucoma, as millions of people silently suffer from sight loss,â Lee said.
Lee has learned that there aren’t many ways to effectively test and measure pressure on a person’s eyes, even while asleep. Through her persistence, collaboration, and innovation, her lab group began making standard over-the-counter contacts and placing sensors on lenses.
Patients can wear the specialist contacts overnight and the pressure readings are sent to a telemedicine monitor, where doctors can learn more about glaucoma. Currently, a handful of patients in Indiana are testing this technology. Another collaboration on this project included Bryan Boudouris, professor of chemical engineering at Purdue, who helped develop the wet adhesive to attach the sensor to the contact lens.
The Purdue Research Foundation’s technology commercialization office helped secure a patent for the technology, and it is available for license. Lee’s lab recently received a $ 2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health with Yannis Paulus, assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, who helped evaluate the contact lens device in a drug administration framework.
âBy combining all this expertise, we are going in the right direction,â says Lee. âPurdue has the perfect environment to create all of these things. There are no barriers or restrictions. Collaboration is the key to research. This is the Purdue culture.
Stimulate student creativity in problem solving
Lee’s lab space includes 3D printers so students, for example, can fabricate parts for an electronic glove, which simulates the sense of touch for prosthetic hands. The technology is being tested at a physical rehabilitation center in Chicago – you can watch the video here. The lab also has standard sewing machines that can transform strands of specialized nanotechnology textiles into clothing.
Researchers and students at the lab, says Lee, complement each other with their talents, backgrounds, and skills, ranging from traditional engineering and marketing to industrial design.
âI can’t do everything; it’s all interdisciplinary, âsays Lee. âThe most important aspect and requirement in the laboratory is persistence. “
While being part of three startups, Lee wants to continue in the technological and scientific development of biomedical engineering to mentor his students and encourage them to take up the technologies they help create, all aimed at achieving one main goal.
âI want our group to develop more technology from Purdue to improve the lives of people, whether in biomedical, consumer electronics or consumer electronics,â says Lee. âI would love to see something in the marketplace that comes from working with my students. I want people to take advantage of our technologies.