SensUs is the annual student competition on molecular biosensors for healthcare applications. The theme of SensUs 2020 is “Managing epileptic disease, by measuring with ease” and this year the teams have been tasked to develop innovative biosensing systems for the measurement of Valproate, a drug used in the treatment of epilepsy, bipolar disorder and spinal muscular atrophy.
As of November 2019, student teams have been designing, building, and testing biosensing systems and on 28 August 2020, the teams will present their biosensors to the world during the SensUs online event. If you are interested to find out more about the competition, join the SensUs online platform on 28 August 2020, where you can follow the live stream and live results, go through the team pages, and vote for your favourite team.
In the meantime, we reached out to former SensUs participants from RWTH team AixSense to get a first-hand insight into what it means to be part of this competition.
On founding the AixSense team (Seyedparham Moharejani, team member 2018)
Aixsense was formed in March 2018 as the first RWTH team to join the SensUs competition. I was excited to be a part of the inaugural Sensus team representing RWTH university in an international competition and to put my skills to use and solve a real-world problem, with the idea of simulating what it would be like to work in a relevant industry. The team was multidisciplinary and with that came interesting challenges and an enjoyable time. We had to come up with a team name, subtasks, a timeline, etc. and I learned firsthand how individuals of different background can communicate and come together to achieve a shared goal. Open communication was key for us as we were not familiar with all the twists and turns of a large newly formed team.
For me, this was the first time I was a part of something this big. What I especially enjoyed the most was that even though we had divided tasks amongst each other, we did not shy away from helping others or asking for help from other more experienced team members. Many late nights in the lab and experimenting were made easier with the team in a good frame of mind. During the competition, I experienced events that were a first for me and I was excited to be part of them. We experienced ups and downs during this period, as any team would, but we knew that in order to achieve the task we must persevere. I believe this competition has helped us to grow as individuals and engineers. Moreover, I believe this competition has reached beyond its purpose. We have remained friends for years after the competition, are in regular contact, and still perform experiments and research together. I believe the lasting impact and experiences of this competition will be with me for a very long time and I would like to think that we have contributed slightly to the development of electronic sensors.”
On the week of the competition (Arka Dipta Das, team member 2019)
When I signed up for the competition, I was unsure what I was getting into. The whole experience was like a rush and left me wanting more. I recount here a few of the memories that are embedded in my mind. Eindhoven is a picturesque city not too far from Aachen. Out of the numerous noteworthy places there, Markt and Stratumseind have been my favorites. TU Eindhoven, the epicentre of the SenUs student competition, is set on an expansive campus. With its futuristic architecture, it left its impression on me as an incubator of cutting-edge innovation. The campsite within the university, where we and all other participants were put up, was a beautiful pavilion with log cabins all around it. Very close to the campsite was the technology incubation centre, where all teams set up their equipment and put in the last few touches to their biosensors before the main event. The official event kicked off with an insightful talk that included several stalwarts of the bio-medical industry. Later that evening, we enjoyed a rather wholesome networking session where we could interact with the experts and exchange ideas with them as well as other teams. I was ecstatic. The atmosphere created by the brilliant ideas flowing in that bustling space was something I had never experienced earlier. Quite simply put, innovation was in the air.
The next day was again a thrilling experience. We were visiting one of the hottest technology hubs in Europe, the renowned High Tech Campus in Eindhoven. This is where the various workshops for SensUs were arranged. After attending an adrenaline-filled pep talk on the start-up culture and ecosystem there, we spent the evening attending several workshops by prominent organisations like TTP, ACS Sensors, Micronit, etc.
The day of the main competition, or D-day, as I like to call it, felt like a full-blown technology convention. With live coverage of the teams which were pushing to get the greatest number of accurate measurements with their biosensors, the intensity of the event reached its pinnacle. Visitors teemed in and observed, inspected and discussed all the technologies showcased there. Meanwhile, the technology and business pitches of each team were also underway. The day ultimately came to a celebratory end with our team, AixSense from RWTH Aachen, clinching the “Public Inspiration Award”, one of the four awards of the competition.
As enthusiastic engineers and scientists, sometimes all we need to fall in love with a mainstream industry is a handsome “exposé” of the cutting-edge work underway in the field. Who knows, maybe some of us are already cooking ideas about founding a technology start-up in the near future.
On winning the Public Inspiration Award 2019 (Apurva Roy, team member 2019)
The Public Inspiration Award is given to the team which garners the maximum number of public votes for their sensor design. Winning the award in front of a huge audience in Eindhoven and many more joining in on the live stream from across the world was indeed an ecstatic feeling. We had been working hard for one year up to the final week, putting in almost 15-20 hours a day in the last couple of months to get the sensor ready for the competition. Our coach and supervisor had worked equally hard with us, supporting us wherever we needed them, and this victory could not have been possible without their motivation. At the end of the competition, our coach said these words to me “Apurva, you guys did it!” and the satisfaction we derived from his statement cannot be put into words. It just made the victory even more special.
I feel the reason for us winning this award was our capability to reach out to maximum people and introduce them to the idea of biosensors, what the necessity of developing a particular biosensor is, and how our biosensor design was better than the others at the competition. While winning the award was definitely what we looked forward to, that we got so many people wondering about biosensors and their usefulness was the added advantage of our outreach.
On future prospects (Apurva Roy, team member 2019)
The key takeaways from the competition would be: Teamwork, Commitment, Proper planning and distribution of tasks, Meeting deadlines and above all – getting to know biosensors and building one from scratch within a matter of months. As has also been expressed by the SensUs organisation, we are continuously motivated to establish a technology start-up and move ahead with our idea of the biosensor. They offer us opportunities to network with potential stakeholders, get supervision from medical experts and then come up with a business proposal that can be used to obtain investment for our idea. As a SensUs alumnus, I would encourage students from various technical universities who are yet to be a part of SensUs to register and participate in the competition. Whether you win or not, the hard and soft skills that you will gain from this year-long experience will reap huge dividends for you in the future!
Don’t forget to tune in on 28 August 2020 at 13.00 CET and vote for the best team!