northwestern university

Swapnil Chaturvedi - Northwestern University


November, 2010

  • Started a student-led course in social entrepreneurship.
  • Working on inner-city and community based projects.
  • Organizing an Advanced I2V for June 2011.
  • Applied for an NCIIA Course and Program grant.



Swapnil Chaturvedi is a MS student at Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) where his focus is on Management, Sustainable Design and Innovation. Swapnil also has a BS in Electronics Engineering and MS in Electrical Engineering from New Mexico State University. Prior to joining Northwestern University, Swapnil was a Software/Design Engineer in Continental Automotive Systems, where he was involved in the design of advanced telematics systems for Hyundai and Onstar. At Continental, he was also involved in various process improvement activities and was instrumental in the enhancement of laboratory testing methodologies. Swapnil has started two successful micro-credit based businesses in the village of Pipariya, India.

In Summer 2010, Swapnil also started Energy Efficiency enterprise called RIPE Energy Solutions and has already received a grant from Initiative for Sustainability & Energy at Northwestern (ISEN) to perform pilot testing of RIPE’s business model. Swapnil is also working on a Ecological Sanitation business idea to promote private funding in the sanitation facilities in urban areas of developing world. Recently, Swapnil also attended the prestigious Green Technology Entrepreneurship Workshop conducted by UC Davis.

Swapnil's vision

My background and experiences have helped me develop the approach of looking various problems as opportunities. As NCIIA Student Ambassador position I want to motivate and inspire (and be inspired by), collaborate with and enable all others who have entrepreneurial fire burning inside them but have not yet found a way to channel this fire to come up with business ideas/ventures. I have firm belief that innovation is more about connecting than inventing. There is a lot of entrepreneurial activity going on in the Chicago area. As an NCIIA Student Ambassador, I want to bring these (social) entrepreneurs together, to facilitate collaboration which would serve as a catalyst and would reduce time to bring these ideas to market.

Different problems, same solution

Two Sustainable Vision grantees provide low-cost access to vital information

It’s hard to go wrong when giving people access to new information: people crave it, markets need it, and the benefits often extend far beyond the initial application. Case in point: two Sustainable Vision grantees recently took a look at widely divergent problems and arrived at the same basic solution: these people need more information.

The first problem? A lack of adequate diagnostic x-ray services in poor areas throughout the world. Two-thirds of the world’s population is without access to x-rays, making a process as simple as setting a broken bone much more difficult and more dangerous. And even for those who do have access, getting those x-rays developed and interpreted can be a long and complex process involving physically carting your film from place to place—all with, say, a broken arm at your side.

The solution? Form a number of strategic partnerships to provide a complete, low-cost, sustainable digital imaging solution. That’s precisely what Matt Glucksberg, professor and chair of biomedical engineering at Northwestern and his diverse team of students, faculty and partner organizations are doing. Calling themselves the World Health Imaging, Telemedicine & Informatics Alliance (WHITIA,, Glucksberg’s team has gone from a senior design project to a certified Illinois non-profit dedicated to bringing x-ray technology to the areas of the world that need it most.

A number of attempts have been made to do just that, of course, with mixed success. One low cost system, the World Health Imaging System–Radiology (WHIS-RAD), was developed by World Health Organization. NGOs have deployed about 1,500 of the machines throughout the world, but they are plagued by several maintenance and sustainability issues, particularly with recurring costs associated with film and chemicals. It isn’t unusual to see rural clinics in the developing world with defunct WHIS-RAD machines covered in cobwebs and locked in closets.

To create a more permanent solution, WHIA has partnered with Sedecal, a manufacturer of x-ray systems, to provide WHIS-RAD machines; with Carestream Health, a medical imaging company, to provide digital (filmless) medical imaging; and with Merge Healthcare, a medical imaging software company, for the software package. On top of these partnerships, WHIA has contacts with universities located in their first test sites (South Africa and Guatemala). Close relationships with Rotary International and other organizations have provided WHIA with a lineup of future candidate sites.

In short, WHIA is well set up to tackle what has been up to now an intractable problem.

“We started this project with the modest goal of replacing film with digital technology,” said Glucksberg, “but soon realized that all the advantages of filmless imaging that we enjoy in the developed world are even more important in resource-poor environments. There is so much that can be done when the image is data. Telemedicine, computer-aided diagnostics, and electronic medical records are all things that are needed to treat patients and track disease, whether we’re talking about medical practice in Chicago or Cape Town.”

For the second problem, we have to come all the way across the globe from Africa to the west coast of the US. That’s where Dara O’Rourke and his GoodGuide team ( are creating a website that rates products based on how “good” they are in terms of social and environmental practices—part of a new movement called “eco intelligence.” Once again, it’s all about information: What chemicals are in your baby shampoo? Was sweatshop labor used to make your t-shirt? What’s the total environmental impact of this gallon of milk?

Using an iPhone app, shoppers can enter a product’s name on their mobile device and the site, currently in beta, replies with detailed health, environmental, and social ratings. GoodGuide has already posted a multitude of searchable products, from food to personal hygiene to household cleaners to toys.

GoodGuide has taken off quickly, going from a student startup in 2006 to receiving $3.7 million in backing from cleantech investors in late 2008. They’ve garnered media attention from Time and Oprah Magazine, among others, and recently won a Crunchie award—Silicon Valley’s version of the Oscars—having been voted the startup “Most Likely to Make the World a Better Place.”

GoodGuide and WHIA are two ventures on the brink of success in achieving their goal: giving people access to valuable information. Their success does indeed promise to make the world a better place.

Updateable Message Personal CD Player - Gen. 3

Northwestern University, 2001 - $12,600

This E-Team from Northwestern University tried to create a new mass medium:messaging on recorded music discs. These messages took the form of ads or educational information. The approach had several advantages over competitive forms of media, such as radio and TV.

The system utilized two versions of CDs. One sold at full price and contained no advertisements. The other contained the same music at substantial discount but played only in an updateable message CD player. When the consumer purchased this latter version, updateable messages would play. Advertisers' messages subsidized the CDs and players, significantly lowering the retail cost for consumers.

The system sent messages in digital form via the subcarrier of the Northwestern University radio station, WNUR. Walkman-style CD players containing the E-Team's hardware module (a radio receiver, memory, and control circuitry) received the broadcast message. The messages were stored in the receiver, and the user controlled when the messages played.

This E-Team consisted of four undergraduate engineering and computer science students. They worked with an engineering professor on technical aspects of the project. The founder and president of SixtySeven Kilohertz, Inc., a company focused on developing commercial applications for the new bandwidth, assisted the team with marketing matters.

Global Healthcare Technologies Program

Northwestern University, 2008 - $46,000

The Global Healthcare Technologies Program in the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University is an intensive, quarter-long course where students work with front-line healthcare workers to design medical devices specifically for the developing world. Ongoing projects include affordable digital radiology, inexpensive apnea monitoring for premature infants in areas with limited neonatal care, and a tuberculosis tracking system.

The grant will help broaden the program in three ways: 1) develop a curriculum to introduce engineering students to the business, social, and political environment of sub-Saharan Africa; 2) develop mechanisms to identify needs for medical devices in resource-poor environments by establishing an additional site in Uganda; 3) develop relationships with the business community and healthcare professionals to serve as additional mentors for student teams, who will subsequently be coached to apply for an E-Team grant and other sources of support to launch sustainable enterprises.

BME (Biomedical) Design for Global Healthcare Technologies

Northwestern University, 2006 - $48,800

Northwestern University has an undergraduate capstone design course that includes travel for students to work with researchers at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. While students have been able to provide clear needs assessments and propose solutions to identified problems, there needs to be a way to maintain continuity on projects so that they ultimately become real product solutions. This team will create an MS program as a way to further support the capstone projects. Specifically, the outcome will be a new program that forms a track within the existing MS and BS-MS programs, but requires additional formal training in Healthcare Technology Management at the University of Cape Town and experience in acting as team leaders for the capstone project teams.

Summer 2009 update: This team developed and installed a digital x-ray system in a community health clinic in South Africa. It now functions as an x-ray facility and a student laboratory. A class of four students was admitted to the capstone course and graduated in December 2008 with MS in biomedical engineering and 6 months of R&D activities in Cape Town, South Africa. The first phase of product testing for the x-ray system is complete and the second phase is planned to take place in Guatemala City. This team formed a non-profit organization, hired paid employees, helped arrange for the donation of equipment to the Crossroads Clinic in South Africa and secured additional funding.

Updateable Message Personal CD Player - Gen 4

Northwestern University, 2002 - $11,500

This E-Team received an E-Team grant ti develop the X-CD, a system that integrates wirelessly updated messages with recorded music. The X-CD is a portable CD player that receives messages broadcast over FM sub-carrier, stores them in memory, and plays them back before, during, or after any CD played, as appropriate. Listeners receive the X-CD broadcasts, consisting of story capsules, interviews, reviews, and advertisements automatically when they use a properly equipped personal music player. Magazines, television shows and others who advertise to young adult audiences buy air time from X-CD and provide the broadcasts. X-CD players, branded by these sponsors, are offered to magazine subscribers or prospective subscribers. The sponsors, magazines like Rolling Stone or Teen People, or TV shows like MTV, gain access to the young adult market.

The X-CD E-Team created three successful prototypes and used this grant to develop a fourth generation prototype. While the first three prototypes were PC-based, the fourth was built around an embedded microcontroller.

The X-CD E-Team consisted of three computer science undergraduates. They worked with an electrical engineering faculty member and the founder and president of SixtySeven Kilohertz, Inc.

KMC Apnea Alert

Northwestern University, 2008 - $20,000

A popular alternative to incubator care for premature infants in developing areas is kangaroo mother care (KMC), a technique in which the infant if kept in a frog-like position on the caregiver’s chest at all times, allowing the caregiver to monitor the infant. While KMC is accepted as an alternative to incubator care by the World Health Organization, premature infants remain at risk for apnea while the caregiver is sleeping and therefore unable to detect an apnea episode. Most apnea detectors do not work with the KMC system.

This E-Team is developing a low-cost, KMC-compatible apnea detection system. The team formed in response to a request from the Karl Bremer Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa for a KMC-compatible apnea monitor and is based on previous coursework over the past two semesters. The device detects apnea by monitoring the typical adbonimal movements of a premature infant while breathing. If there is no breathing for a stretch of time, indicating an apnea episode, the device sets off an alarm. The device is attached to the abdomen using a gentle, double-sided hydrogel adhesive pad that is disposable and replaceable.

The NUberwalker: Low Cost Body Weight Supported Treadmill Training System

Northwestern University, $15,500

This E-Team developed the NUberwalker, a Body Weight Support Treadmill Training (BWSTT) system that helps with the physical rehabilitation of stroke and spinal cord injury patients. The NUberwalker consists of a triangular frame that arches over the treadmill like a swing set, bungee cords, and a harness. Once the user is strapped into the harness, he or she presses a button to tension the bungee cords to the desired level of support, and starts the treadmill.

There are other BSWTT systems in rehabilitation centers and hospitals, but they are usually large, complex and expensive. The team reasons that an in-home BSWTT system would allow for more frequent training between physical therapy sessions, as well as ongoing in-home training following the completion of physical therapy, improving patient recovery time.

Invention: Creative and Legal Perspectives

Invention: Creative and Legal Perspectives is the first course on invention offered at Ramapo College. The course integrates students from a variety of disciplines, including science, business, and the arts. With a NCIIA grant, Professors Anderson and Sherman revised the curriculum to extend over two semesters. In the first semester, the professors divide students into teams of four and challenge each group to identify a problem in daily life and solve it with an inventive solution. Students begin this process by listing daily problems and annoyances they would like to eliminate. After this initial exercise, students then form new teams and work together on invention ideas culled from students and faculty. Each team applies its newly gained knowledge in the course to its own invention, constructively reducing the invention to practice. The goal of the course is to motivate students to invent and to supply them with the minimum legal and business know-how they need to produce, market, and protect an invention.

Surgical Dustbuster

University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus

Many surgical procedures require the removal of fluid from the surgical site using a vacuum system. The typical source of suction in the surgical field is a large tube connected to a wall vacuum at one end of the operating room. Because the suction system's tubes run across the floor of the operating room and need to be maneuvered like a garden hose, the system is ungainly and awkward. To address these problems, the Surgical Dustbuster E-Team is developing a prototype portable, freestanding unit for removing fluid where wall suction is unavailable, or large capacities for fluid collection are not required. This device incorporates a surgical vacuum with greater maneuverability and lower cost, making it suitable for use in outpatient settings as well as traditional operating rooms.

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