Student-Developed Medical Device Wins NASA Tech Briefs’ “Create the Future” Contest

Achievement date: 

A team of students sponsored by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Nanosystems Engineering Research Center (NERC) for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST), based at North Carolina State University (NCSU), won first place in the Medical Devices category of the NASA Tech Briefs’ 2013 “Create the Future” design contest. Their winning product idea – VitalFlo – is a compact, hand-held spirometer that helps consumers monitor, manage, and treat changes in breathing. The product idea first emerged as a result of a Product Innovation Course taught to a group of multidisciplinary students at NCSU. As part of the award, the VitalFlo team was featured in Medical Design Briefs Magazine (see ).

ASSIST’s winning entry testifies to the speed with which the NERC program helps bridge the divide between state-of-the-art nanotechnology research and current needs in the health applications space. The project-based Product Innovation Course attracts students from the Master of Business Administration, Industrial Design, and Engineering programs. Students on the VitalFlo team completed situational analysis, market research, product development, engineering and prototyping for technical advancements, and business planning including financial analysis and marketing planning. The variety of backgrounds allowed for the simulation of a real-time company and the conception of a fully functional, market-ready device. VitalFlo achieved first place in its category among 80 other professional entries through public voting and final selection by a panel of senior engineers and scientists.


With over 190,000 subscribers and 400,000 monthly readers, NASA Tech Briefs is the world's largest-circulation design engineering magazine. Its publishers launched the “Create the Future” Design Contest in 2002 to help stimulate and reward engineering innovation. Since launch, the annual event has attracted more than 8,000 product design ideas from engineers, entrepreneurs, and students worldwide. The contest's principal sponsors are COMSOL and Tech Briefs Media Group.

The winning VitalFlo team is made up of James Dieffenderfer, an engineering graduate student; Mike Brown, a Spring 2013 graduate of the Industrial Design graduate program; and Leigh Johnson, a Spring 2013 graduate of the Master of Business Administration program.  Dr. John Muth, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Deputy Director of the ASSIST Center, mentored the team. Muth commented: "The Create the Future Contest provided a great platform for others to learn about the VitalFlo technology and shows how a multidisciplinary team innovates a product concept. This handheld spirometer is very low-cost to build, which may make it useful not just for asthma sufferers here in the US, but also in other regions of the world where the cost of medical devices is a big problem.“