An Interdisciplinary Design Project for Undergraduate Engineering Training – Portable Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction System
Lanju Mei, Lei Zhang, Willie Brown, Xianfang Tan
Our world has been permanently changed by the pandemic outbreak of COVID-19 starts around the end of 2019. In the first few months of 2020, the whole world was in urgent need of an effective, easy, and quick method for the identification of the infection of the new virus. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machine, which can test DNA samples by rapidly making millions of copies of a specific DNA sample through the PCR process, including the COVID-19 virus, can perfectly fit this demand. In this study, a design project on PCR is introduced for undergraduate education in electrical and mechanical engineering. The objective of this project is to develop a low-cost, ease-of-use, wallet-size, portable real-time PCR (RT-PCR) machine for accurate testing of various bacteria or viruses. The key function of the PT-PCR system is to precisely control and maintain the temperature of the biosample solution within a range between 55°C and 95°C. This project provides students opportunities in studying and practicing a wide range of engineering technics and skills, including mechanical design, electronics design, microcomputer programming, data acquisition and processing, etc. Students can gain comprehensive understanding of the design of multiphysics system after they overcome various challenges emerging in the project. From the view of engineering education, the process of this project development has demonstrated the importance and benefits of adopting complex interdisciplinary engineering problems for student teams to solve, especially those involve contemporary issues.