Students’ engineering ideas help people with Parkinson’s

Engineering students at the University of Sheffield have been given the chance to tackle real-world problems as part of their degree, by innovating to help the lives of people with Parkinson’s.

Student on the Make a Change module

As part of the Make a Change module, teams of student engineers at the University are annually tasked with putting engineering theory into practice by designing commercially feasible products and solutions to a real problem, provided by a real customer.

This year, the students were asked to develop a technical solution for a Parkinson’s sufferer in Sheffield, as well as a business proposition.

The innovative module, which has been running for 15 years means that students learn skills that can boost employability and even lead to real business success.

Students from previous years have had their ideas developed into real products on the market,which have helped people’s lives. These have included an innovative walking frame to help youngsters with brittle bone disease who struggle to use taller frames.

Last year, one of the student teams was awarded £25,000 by Arthritis Research UK to further develop their product - magnetic buttoned shirts for people with arthritis or other musculoskeletal conditions.

This year’s team focussed on Parkinson’s sufferers - a progressive neurological condition which affects 127,000 people in the UK. People with Parkinson’s lack a chemical called dopamine because specific nerve cells inside their brain have died. It is not known why these cells die.

The main symptoms of Parkinson’s are tremors, muscle stiffness and slowness of movement, but other issues, such as tiredness, pain, depression and constipation, can also have an impact on people with the condition’s day-to-day lives.

Student on the Make a Change module

Ged Taylor, a sufferer from Sheffield, was diagnosed ten years ago and as his condition has progressed he finds day-to-day tasks much harder to undertake, such as feeding himself, getting in and out of cars, putting his coat on and fastening his clothes.

The students met with Ged to understand the problems he faces as well as other people living with Parkinson’s in Sheffield.

The teams conducted market research by meeting industry and legal experts to make sure if any ideas could become a reality and learn more about intellectual property.

Ideas and prototypes were presented to Ged and his family as well as Parkinsons’ UK in Sheffield, and industry experts from engineering company, Gripple, and disability solution company, Kingkraft.

Ideas included an aid to help people connect their seatbelt, and easy to open wallets which allowed a person to pick up their coins simply.

One of the ideas developed this year was an audio amplifier, which allows Ged’s quiet voice to be heard by friends and family. Ged was able to test a working prototype created by the students.

Ged said: “It was really interesting to see the solutions the students had come up with. My quiet voice often means I can’t be heard so an audio amplifier will really help me communicate with my friends and family.”

Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, who leads the course, said: “It’s important that our students understand the real-life consequences their ideas can have helping people in society. I hope many of the teams’ ideas from this year will go on to be developed and make a difference to people with Parkinson’s.”

The competition forms part of the ‘Make a Change’ module offered to engineering students of all disciplines at the University of Sheffield.

Additional Information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 27,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2017 and was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education in 2014. In the last decade it has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

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Kirsty Bowen
Media Relations Officer
0114 222 1034