From Georgia Tech Class Project to International Recognition

Students and professor look at centrifuge.

By Malrey Head | Monday, November, 13, 2017 | Atlanta, GA

To Georgia Tech grad student Hua Wen, the email looked like spam. But an online search and confirmation from his roommate convinced him it was real.

The email was an invitation to an international design show in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.

Wen and former classmate Allie Miller were being invited to participate in the Global Grad Show, an exhibition of student works from the world’s leading design schools.

The two were invited for a manually operated centrifuge they designed for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. They were students in Professor Wendell Wilson’s Graduate Studio II class when they undertook the assignment in the spring of 2016 in the School of Industrial Design at the College of Design.

On the first day of the show, Wen learned that the centrifuge had been selected as one of 10 finalists for the Global Grad Show Progress Prize. This is the first year of the prize and will be awarded to one exhibitor each year.

Another former Georgia Tech student, Elvin Chu, was also invited for his Halo, a MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) controller.

None of them had heard of the Global Grad Show. But that is not surprising as this is only its third year. It will take place during Dubai Design Week November 14-18.

It is described on its website as “the largest ever student gathering, representing 92 of the world’s best design schools, from 43 countries on 6 continents.”

For 2017, the show will present 200 projects grouped under the themes of Connect, Empower and Sustain, the website states. The Georgia Tech projects fall under the category of Empower.

Global Show Celebrates Student Innovation

Brendan McGetrick, an independent writer, editor, and designer, is the curator of the show. He said in an email that the show is “a celebration of innovation for social and environmental good. It has been made to honor and encourage a new generation working to design a more equitable, sustainable, and prosperous world.”

The projects from Georgia Tech are about empowerment, he said. “They demonstrate how design and technology can expand people’s abilities and create new opportunities.”

He said “Allison and Hua’s 3D printed centrifuge is exciting because it creates the possibility of democratizing a technology that is currently very expensive. … By creating a new, much less expensive method of producing and repairing centrifuges, this project could potentially right this imbalance and save lives.”

Of Chu’s Halo MIDI he said, “It simplifies the overly complex and intimidating interface of digital music controllers. As a result, it has the potential to inspire more people to take up music and the change the way active musicians approach their craft.”

The students are excited to be a part of this international show.

As Miller put it, she is “super excited, I’m only three months out of my academic experience and I’m already in an international design show.”

She said it was a fun project, she learned a lot, but then didn’t think much more about it.

Then, she said, Wen suggested submitting the centrifuge to the Core77 Design Awards. In Core77, an online design magazine, they won Student Notable in the Open Design category for 2017.

Miller graduated in May with a Master of Industrial Design

Wen, who expects to graduate in December with a Master of Industrial Design, is also “very excited” about going to Dubai.

He said he has never before been in a show at a global level. Most shows he attended previously were at a university or state level.

He said he is excited to be able to meet students from other U.S. schools such as MIT and Stanford, and be able to share projects.

Wen also is looking forward to the networking, saying it is a good opportunity to meet people who are like-minded and also want to create things.

Halo Will Change Musical Experience


Former ID student Elvin Chu graduated in 2016 with a B.S. in Industrial Design. He now works in San Francisco at a company called Matter.

At Matter he said he works on client projects and is “primarily responsible for the physical side of design, but (is) also included in the entire design process to ensure a more holistic solution at every user touchpoint.”

Chu was invited to the Global Grad Show for his product Halo. He describes it as, “ a concept MIDI (musical instrument digital Interface) controller that offers a more immersive interaction for the user over traditional music production knobs.” A MIDI controller enables physical input for synthetic instruments like synthesizers, and are primarily controlled by many knobs.

Halo offers a concave opening and a larger rotational arm with a single dial that can be controlled by touch. It offers a simpler access to the controllers settings. Chu  said Halo “evokes a more inviting experience while minimizing ergonomic pain points from current knobs.”

Chu, who is also a musician, stated in an email, “I’ve used several MIDI controllers in the past, and have seen a common thread of issues around knobs with each controller."

Chu said he will be attending the show and is honored to be a part of “an exhibition at this scale and excited to visit Dubai!”

He too is looking forward to connecting with other designers.

This will be Georgia Tech’s first year participating in the Global Grad Show. The ID student and alumnae will be in good company as the show will feature works from other well-established schools such as the MIT, Rhode Island School of Design, and Stanford in the United States; Royal College of Art in London; and Tsinghua University in Beijing.

This show however, is not just about pretty designs.

Manually Operated Centrifuge Will Aid 3rd-World Labs


At the time of Miller and Wen’s class, the manual centrifuge was one project the CDC needed.

Professor Wilson has a regular connection with the CDC in which he asks if there are projects the students could help them with.

The centrifuge was one project they needed help with. They asked the students to improve the design of a manual centrifuge, a lab device used to analyze bodily fluids, such as blood.

The CDC often uses centrifuges in their international health labs, but frequent power outages make consistent use difficult. Additionally, when machines break, a lack of replacement parts makes these costly machines unusable.

Miller has a background in healthcare, including public health, clinical medicine, and healthcare policy. Wen calls himself a creative technologist. He uses digital visualization tools and hardware prototyping skills to make things. Their blend of talents came together to design the centrifuge for the CDC.

As they wrote in their submission to Core77, they started the project with research that included stakeholder analysis, examination of products that could spin with hand power like toys, and an examination of how 3D printing could be incorporated into the existing salad spinner.

In 3-4 weeks the students had created a device that pulled together a salad spinner and a 3D printed base.

Having 3D printed parts allows the device to be easily repaired, reproduced, and shipped. Miller and Wen even proposed how CAD files could be sent digitally to international maker spaces and FabLabs for local manufacturing. Finally, the entire system can be put into a carry-on suitcase allowing the device to be easily transported.

Miller described the final product as “good collaboration ... we each stepped in where we were strongest.”

Wilson, a Professor of Practice at the School, has taught at Georgia Tech for about 20 years over two stints.

When asked how proud he is of the students he said he was “very proud” and that they had come up with a very good solution. Many projects have sketches, but he said this one ended with a practical model.

What Is Expected to Happen at the Show

Wen and Professor Wilson will attend the show in Dubai.

According to McGetrick, students will spend much of their time at the show, meeting visitors, the press, and colleagues from around the world. Throughout the week they also will be explaining their projects.

But it will not be all work. They also will have a chance to attend exhibits and events connected to Dubai Design Week, such as parties and lectures.

Miller is unable to attend the show, but another honor popped up for in the States. Her industrial design master’s thesis project – also advised by Wilson – was accepted into a poster competition for Women in Clean Energy. She will be at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the time of the Global Grad Show.

The title of her thesis was, "Human-Centered Biogas for Small Scale Rwandan Farmers."

For her research, she looked at the use of biogas energy in Rwanda -- a form of gas that is made from animal and plant waste which can be used for cooking and heating purposes. Currently, biogas is cost prohibitive for many families who instead rely on charcoal or wood to cook.

Miller looked at how locally available materials could be used to build D.I.Y. biogas digesters in order for families to make their own biogas and become more energy independent.

Another project that could be considered about empowerment.