Plastic project fares well at CWRU event

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Frank Esposito CWRU students Aaron Weinberg, Sarah Mortier, Alex Monier and Paul Advincula of the Whyrlpol team

Cleveland — A plastics-centric project won the Audience Award and finished in second place overall in a student design competition hosted by Saint-Gobain SA at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

A student team named Whyrlpol — made up of sophomores Sarah Mortier, Aaron Weinberg and Alex Monier and junior Paul Advincula — designed a whirlpool tub with an affordable, disposable film liner insert made of high density polyethylene. The design also includes a drain mechanism made of polypropylene.

The film liner insert would benefit patients undergoing hydrotherapy for infection or burns by helping to remove damaged tissue and circulate water or saline solution, which allows the wound to heal more quickly.

“We asked what would be the best material for this application,” Mortier said in a phone interview before the April 13 event. “And HDPE was a cost-effective material that was very accessible.”

Typically, when whirlpool tubs are prescribed for patients, doctors worry about cross-contamination. They’re also concerned about the extensive amount of time it takes to sterilize the tubs so they can be used by the next patient. By developing a disposable tub lining, the student team hopes to overcome these issues and provide a solution that will aid patients as well as medical staff.

Whyrlpol came in second in the nine-team competition. Another team — called 3Tape — used several polyurethane products to design a new type of bandage that could be used in emergency or military situations. 3Tape’s team members were Fiona Liu, Lauren Walters and Marc Salani.

The competition is a partnership between CWRU and Saint-Gobain, one of the world’s largest building materials companies. CWRU officials said that the event provides teams of students with the opportunity to design and build a prototype that takes an existing material and — by using materials science and engineering — creates a new and innovative use that solves a problem for society.

Students develop and present their prototypes to a panel of judges from CWRU, Saint-Gobain and other local businesses. The students are assisted by mentors from these organizations throughout the process. Saint-Gobain materials don’t have to be used in the student projects.

“The event is an incubator-type thing,” said Dave Stresing, a Saint-Gobain technical director and a judge for the event. “The kids come up with some fantastic ideas.” Stresing is at the firm’s Performance Plastics location in Ravenna, Ohio.

The competition now is in its seventh year. Similar events are hosted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and at Stanford University.

CWRU corporate relations director Jim Pae said that the event not only brings outside organizations like Saint-Gobain to campus, it “helps students extend their learning to real-world skills.”

“This allows [students] to place their engineering and design work in a business context,” he added. “They can use their skills in the classroom and apply them to a corporate opportunity.”

Officials with Saint-Gobain — based in Courebvoie, France, with North American headquarters in Malvern, Pa. — said in a news release that the competition helps to provide their firm with access to “up-and-coming leaders with an eye for innovation.” Saint-Gobain employs more than 170,000 worldwide and posted sales of almost $42 billion in 2016.

CWRU ranks as one of the country’s leading private research institutions. It has more than 11,000 students at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Frank Esposito Alex Monier explains the project to a judge at the event.