September 12, 2014, BY Heather Johns

Welcome to "Cool Classes," a regular feature that highlights the interesting, intriguing and unexpected in Bucknell University's course catalog.

What class? BMEG 350: Fundamentals of Biomedical Signals and Systems

Who teaches it? Professor Joe Tranquillo, biomedical engineering

"Signals and Systems is one of the more theoretical courses in the engineering curriculum — it can easily become dull and disconnected from engineering design. To bring the material alive I issue a themed challenge each year. This fall the theme is children's toys and games. Another theme was to create biomusical instruments in collaboration with students in the performance group Bucknell Interdisciplinary Improv Ensemble (BIIE). The task of my students was to create devices that could record biological signals and turn them into sounds in real time. At the end of the semester they took part in an improvised performance with BIIE on their instruments in the Elaine Langone Center on Trustee Weekend.

"This past year the theme was wearable fashion. The challenge was to create not simply a novelty or fitness product, but something that might truly make the world better.

"One group created a sock for emergency responders and the military that would record biological distress signals and silently radio the base. Another group created a jacket that contained ultrasonic sensors that relayed real-time feedback to a blind user about the location of nearby objects — it even contained headphones that would talk to the user. 

"In changing the project each year, I flip the usual model of the classroom where the faculty member is the expert. The structure of BMEG 350 is such that I transition from an instructor to a co-learner. This structure empowers students become the experts.

"Of course I want my students to leave with a deep understanding of signals and systems. But just as important, I want them to experience engineering as a creative discipline — we invent artifacts for society that did not exist before. This requires integrating technical skill and creativity in an environment that fosters curiosity, intrinsic motivation and an entrepreneurial spirit."

See what else is being offered by the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Are we missing out on a cool class? Send suggestions to heather.johns@bucknell.edu.

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