High School Students Design “Infant Incubators” and Build Device Prototypes

Achievement date: 

Students at an Illinois high school designed and prototyped infant incubators that could help poorer regions where electricity is neither affordable nor reliable. The exercise was supported by graduate students from the Center for Power Optimization of Electro-Thermal Systems (POETS), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) based at the University of Illinois.


The students worked as 10 different teams of five or six each in conceptualizing, designing, and building prototypes of the devices. The students learned engineering concepts, how to work together as a group, and how to present their work in posters and short videos.


The program is an example of POETS’ informal education efforts that include a high degree of collaboration and curriculum exchanges across programs and universities. It began when an Illinois high school teacher consulted on a POETS Research Experiences in Teaching (RET) curriculum about infant incubators. The teacher adapted it for his high school chemistry class as an end-of-semester design challenge.

Students presented their posters and videos to a group of POETS graduate students in a seminar, where awards were given to the best design, best poster, and best video. Students’ ideas will be incorporated into future iterations of the RET curriculum as additional units or design options.