Frequently Asked Questions about Biomedical Engineering Design Courses

What are the benefits and challenges of the design courses?

All participants in the Biomedical Engineering Student Design courses, including students and clients, are encouraged to consider the following benefits and challenges prior to the start of student projects, so that any questions or concerns can be discussed prior to the formation of the project team.

Students gain numerous benefits from these projects. Students get an opportunity to develop their technical problem solving skills while working in a team environment, similar to "real world" engineers. The students are exposed to project management challenges, including time constraints, material availability, and technical limitations.

There are also many benefits for clients participating in the Biomedical Engineering Student Design course. These benefits include closely interacting with students, getting access to potential future employees, exposing students to the client's laboratory, company or industry, and getting input on specific projects suggested by the client. Many clients have had real problems solved by participating in the course, and a number of patents have been awarded in the past.

However, these courses do lead to competing objectives. Everyone needs to remember that the paramount objective is the education of the students. The student participants are undergraduate students, so clients should understand that this course is not a "work for hire" program and that there are no guarantees that the students will be able to solve the specific problems of the project or be able to develop any type of working prototype.

In addition, one of the course requirements is dissemination of information through course presentations, websites, publications, conference calls and team meetings. Clients are encouraged to take appropriate steps to protect any confidential information that they determine is relevant to the team project. As part of the educational objective, the client can discuss with the students the appropriate safeguards to maintain the confidentiality of the sponsor's information. However, clients need to remember that these are undergraduate students and to use prudence when disclosing any information to students. Clients should be aware that as a public institution, UW-Madison cannot agree to keep our work with each other confidential indefinitely.

Clients and students are also encouraged to discuss material, supplies and space requirements for the project with their client to become familiar with the policies regarding the appropriate use of UW facilities, equipment, and safety procedures.

What are the obligations of the students?

The undergraduate biomedical engineering design students are bright, motivated and resourceful. They are supported by a team of expert, design-oriented faculty advisors. The students are responsible for the following deliverables during each semester:

  • A weekly progress report by email (including expenses)
  • A product design specification
  • A midsemester presentation
  • A final poster presentation
  • A final written report
  • A design prototype
  • A project website

In addition, at the completion of the three-semester senior 'capstone' projects, project teams are required to either file an invention disclosure to WARF or write a manuscript formatted for a peer-reviewed journal or a conference.

Clients should note that this is a service-learning course. The primary goal of the course is to educate students in the engineering design process. We anticipate that students will learn design principles, personnel and financial management, manufacturing, ethical behavior, leadership and communication skills during the course of their experience in these projects.

What are the obligations of the clients?

Clients are expected to offer a design problem suitable for undergraduate biomedical engineering students to solve in one-to-three semesters. In addition, clients are expected to provide the following to the student team:

  • Time and attention to the student design team, either in person or by designated staff member or electronically (approximately eight hours per semester)
  • Budget limits and financial support for necessary material and supply purchases to build a prototype
  • Other resources that might include information, disposables, access to existing equipment, technician time, animals, human subjects, etc.
  • Guidance and compliance regarding all of the appropriate University safety protocols if applicable. Note: we do not permit our teams to work with human derived samples, tissues or cells.

Clients or designated staff members should meet with their student teams frequently and are strongly encouraged to attend midsemester project presentations and end-of-semester poster sessions. All necessary supplies and materials are provided by the client.

What are the expenses to the clients?

Each client is expected to establish their own budget and spending limits. Our experience is that costs for projects in this course are nominal. Projects typically run between $100 and $500 for materials, machining time, electronic components, etc., although it may be greater than this if specialized equipment and materials are involved. Clients are expected to purchase these items or reimburse students (subject to client pre-approval). Expenses can be paid through direct reimbursement of students or, preferably, by providing the BME Department administrator the spending limit and a fund number (e.g., a 144- account) to process the purchase of necessary materials. Students will report costs incurred weekly in the project report (by email). At the end of the semester (or the end of the project if it is a multisemester project), the prototype will become the property of the client. Student and expert faculty advisor time are provided free of charge.

How are projects selected?

Prior to the beginning of the semester, Biomedical Engineering design faculty review the submitted project descriptions. The emphasis of a problem must be on a medical or biological device design, not a research topic. If a completed design exists but remains only to be built, the faculty will not recommend it as a student project. The project descriptions provided by the client of projects that are deemed appropriate by the faculty are made available to the students two weeks before classes begin. Students choose projects and their teammates in a lottery-type process on the first Friday of the semester. The team immediately contacts their client. The Biomedical Engineering faculty cannot guarantee that any given project will be selected any particular semester. If your project is not selected, you are encouraged to try again the following semester.

What about intellectual property?

Inventions may arise as a secondary consequence of the student projects. Students will be given information about steps to take to protect intellectual property. If there is a need to determine ownership of specific inventions, participants need to understand the application of US patent law. All inventors (which may include students, advisor, and client) must be listed on the patent application. Under university policy and certain federal statutes, all inventions made by UW­Madison faculty, staff and students must be disclosed to UW-Madison's patent management entity, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation ("WARF") regardless of the monies (federal, private, etc.) that funded the research leading to the invention ( If federal funds did not contribute to the invention, the inventor may then choose whether or not to work with WARF in patenting and licensing the invention. If the client commingles funds from federal government sources, by statute they must provide WARF with first right of refusal. Clients may contact WARF to negotiate access to such inventions.