The idea for a class on inventing came to him three years ago when Patrick Kiser was teaching another bioengineering class. He asked his students how many of them thought they would eventually be inventors and obtain patents. To his surprise, almost half of the 80 students in the class raised their hands. In response to the apparent interest, Dr. Kiser developed a class he calls “INVENT!” to allow students to explore the process of inventing.

“My goal in the class is to help students realize their potential as innovators by working outside the safe and well-defined confines of a classroom and entering the unknown where creativity can occur,” says Dr. Kiser, an assistant professor of bioengineering.

Students in the class are divided into teams of two or three members to identify important biomedical problems that they can potentially invent a solution for. The teams get ideas for inventions from speaking with professors and doctors or looking at medical journals and small business innovation research grants from the National Science Foundation.

Students choose a few problems that interest them and come up with their own inventions that improve or solve the problems in new ways. Over the course of a semester, the students eventually choose and further develop one idea for a workable invention.

“Through this class, students engage with engineering in ways that literally transform how they view the field,” Dr. Kiser says. “They work really hard on their inventions because they end up becoming the owners of their ideas.”

As part of the class, Dr. Kiser’s students also enter their ideas into the statewide Tech Titans competition, a student-run science and engineering invention competition for all college or university students in Utah. In addition to the grand prize, awards are given for the best biotechnology, consumer product, computer science, and engineering ideas and designs.

In the past two years, Dr. Kiser’s students have won first place in the biotechnology category. This year’s winner was a team of three students in Dr. Kiser’s class who developed a way to dissolve clotting material that surgeons currently use to prevent excessive blood loss. Clotting materials can sometimes come loose or be misplaced during surgery, which can lead to a fatal heart attack or stroke. The ability to dissolve the material could potentially have many medical applications.

The team, Creighton Petty, Peter Read, and Sahil Mehta, are all sophomores studying bioengineering, who have learned a lot from the process of inventing.

“Initially, the idea for this invention started with trying to solve problems with postpartum bleeding,” says Mehta. “But it can also be used in any type of surgery.” Mehta eventually plans to get a PhD in bioengineering and do research.

“This class gave us the motivation to fully develop the concept for our idea,” says Read, who enjoyed the problem-solving and medical aspects of the class. He ultimately wants to go to dental school.

Petty hopes to eventually invent other products or go to medical school. “I enjoy being a bioengineering major because it combines areas that I’m interested in, like engineering, health, and biology,” he says.

Dr. Kiser’s other student team finalists this year at the Tech Titans competition developed an idea for a knee brace device that would use electric stimulation to minimize muscle atrophy, a common problem for knee brace users.

Adam Simmons and Dan Lackey—also sophomores studying bioengineering—learned a lot about innovation through the class.

“The class was great because we prove to ourselves that we can tackle problems doing hands-on research,” says Simmons, who eventually wants to create other devices in the area of biomaterials.

“To me what defines an engineer is taking a problem and finding an innovative and creative way of solving it and making sure that the solution improves the quality of life for those that are using it,” says Lackey who plans to go to medical school.

For more information, please see the class description.