Surgical Crawlers

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The introduction of the pill camera—a tiny capsule containing a video-recording device that can be used to image and diagnose abnormalities in the gastrointestinal tract—ushered in a new era in medical diagnostic procedures.

CU assistant professor of mechanical engineering Mark Rentschler is taking the concept to the next level by trying to give the capsule greater mobility and opening the door to advanced, robotic surgical procedures. His approach begins with adding treads (think snow tires) and remote control capabilities so that the resulting device can maneuver around the various tissues and organs within the abdominal cavity and GI tract.

Rentschler, who already has three patents, has a secondary appointment in the Department of Surgery at the CU School of Medicine and teaches courses in medical device design and advanced product design. 

Working with a variety of BS, MS, and PhD students, Rentschler is studying everything from tread design and performance to characterization and modeling of tissue mechanics. His goal is to create the optimal design for a robotic surgery assist device he calls the “Capsule Crawler.”

If it can eliminate the need for a general anesthetic, tethering or sedation, it would be a big advancement in patient care. 

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Why study at CU-Boulder?

The mechanical engineering undergraduate curriculum at CU-Boulder incorporates a broad range of courses to provide a balanced education in the fundamentals of the profession. Students can choose from two technical elective plans — one provides a broad, general education in mechanical engineering, while the other allows students to specialize in the technical area of biomedical or environmental engineering. Both paths prepare students for successful careers in industry or government or to continue on to graduate education.

Mechanical engineering senior design projects are sponsored by local and national industry, providing hands-on, relevant design experiences. Students also can participate in undergraduate research internships and industry co-ops, and gain professional exposure through the student chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers on campus.

Research Opportunities

Graduate and undergraduate research may involve participation in one of the department’s major research centers, which include the Center for Combustion and Environmental Research; DARPA Focus Center on Nanoscale Science and Technology; NSF Membrane and Applied Science Center; Nanomaterials Characterization Facility; and the Collaborative for Air Quality Research.  

Independent study and research assistantships also are available through individual faculty, whose work is grouped into three areas—biomechanical engineering, energy and environmental engineering, and micro/nanoscale engineering. Specific research topics range from studying the loss of bone mass experienced by astronauts during long periods of space flight, to inverse-modeling to track the source of greenhouse gases, to discovering the mechanical properties of exciting new nanomaterials such as graphene.

Where do CU graduates work?

Mechanical engineers can work in anything from research, development, design, and testing to manufacturing, operations, marketing, sales, and administration. CU-Boulder graduates are employed at a wide range of companies, including Anheuser Busch, Covidien, Gates, Goodyear Tire, Hewlett Packard, Honda, Ball Aerospace & Technologies, ABSL Space Products, Lockheed Martin, Schlumberger, and United Airlines. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory and National Institute for Standards and Technology also hire CU mechanical engineering graduates.

About 20 percent of CU-Boulder engineering bachelor’s graduates (college-wide) continue onto graduate school, gaining admittance to top schools such as MIT, Princeton, Harvard, Cornell, Stanford, University of California Berkeley, and the University of Texas at Austin.

Job Outlook

Mechanical engineers are expected to have a slower than average growth rate with employment projected to increase 6 percent through 2018. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Starting Salary

The average salary nationally for bachelor’s degree mechanical engineering graduates in 2010 was $50,550. CU-Boulder graduates with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering reported an average starting offer of $53,129.


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