Welcome to the jungle!

Guanacaste has been quite an adventure! We have been staying at Earth University un Liberia, which is a small school in the middle of a forest. The first thing we noticed after arriving was the incredible diversity of wildlife. Our van was met by a coati, a strange raccoon/monkey/pig hybrid that most of us had never before encountered. We were told about the giant toads prior to our arrival, and soon after settling into my room I was greeted by a smiling Callie at my window holding a large toad (below, a photo of Callie attempting to turn her toad into a prince). Besides the coatis and toads, we’ve seen a family of monkeys in the trees, an assortment of large iguanas, a really cute dog,     and lots and lots of BUGS. The bugs have a strange way of turning up everywhere you least expect them to – in your towels, in your food, in your eyeball. The novelty has yet to wear off for me, and my fellow GMIers can attest that my shrieks have only been getting louder as the week has gone on.

All jokes aside, Earth University is really a beautiful place, and I’ve grown to enjoy the quiet contentment I feel when surrounded by nature. I’ve had a chance to explore the campus a little bit, and it’s really exciting to see so much animal and plant life in one place! I’ve never lived or spent a lot of time outside of the city, so being in this environment is very new to me. I’ve started to adjust to the ever-changing weather, the thrill of stumbling upon a large reptile, and all the little surprises of living in the wilderness.

We came to Liberia to focus on implementing and continuing the DialOasis project that last year’s GMI group started. The goal of this project is to make it possible for patients requiring peritoneal dialysis to be able to perform this procedure safely and sanitarily in their own home. Right now, many of these patients must travel pretty far distances to get to a hospital to do the procedure, and for many patients this procedure must be done many times a day. This dramatically impinges upon their quality of life, an makes it difficult to work and perform daily tasks.

Our goal for these two weeks has been to find a way to improve upon the current design of the system, source materials cheaply and locally, and test out the design with dialysis patients in Liberia. This past week, we went to Hospital Liberia and talked to doctors in the peritoneal dialysis unit, and got to observe the procedure being done by both a nurse and a patient themselves. We have split into teams, and have begun the preliminary stages of our “sprint” to accomplish these tasks. Over the next week, we will be working hard to get things done and test out our prototype at Hospital Liberia on Friday!

Aside from the DialOasis project, we have also gotten to meet some of GMI’s key collaborators and learn more about them and what they do. We’ve spent a lot of time at Universidad Invenio, which is a university in Costa Rica that focuses on the intersection of engineering and business. The school places a huge emphasis on work experience, and students graduate with their degrees in 6 years, inclusive of 2 years of work experience out in the industry. Our team got to spend time on campus and do some fun team building games with Roy, one of the university’s directors. Invenio is going to be a huge resource for us as we proceed with building our DialOasis prototype, and we also met with them to discuss building at their campus and working with the engineers to put the whole thing together.

This week, we also met with Dr. Jose Castro at Ad Astra Rocket Company, which is located on campus at Earth University. Dr. Castro is a Rice alumnus who is also a scientist focused on developing technology for in-space flight. They accomplish this by using plasma rocket propulsion technology, which utilizes a magnetic field to generate thrust. The engine developed by Ad Astra is called the VASMIR. It not only uses a fraction of the fuel that traditional engines use, but could also cut the time it takes to travel to Mars from 6 months to 40 days. We got to see the engine on-site in the Costa Rican headquarters, and also heard about the steps Ad Astra is taking towards sustainability.

We’ve spent a lot of time at Hospital Liberia looking for needs they have for potential future projects. We looked at the pathology department, speaking with Dr. Manuel, and got to see the procedure for segmenting biopsy samples and preparing them for testing. We also got to meet Dr. Ana Cecila Rodriguez, another key GMI collaborator, and here about her work. She is the doctor responsible for discovering the link between HPV and cervical cancer! Dr. Rodriguez ran the clinical trials that discovered this link, as well as the trials for the vaccine. Her research was incredible and groundbreaking, and it was really cool to hear about how she accomplished it, as well as her next steps. We also worked with the physical therapy department, and saw the ways they combine occupational therapy with physical therapy. In each department, we learned of many ways that patient care could be improved, and this has helped us learn more about the Costa Rican healthcare system and the differences in care at different hospitals and regions.

Apart from work, this week has also been pretty fun! The President of Costa Rica was at Earth University, so there was a lot of excitement around that. Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to see him, but we did see his motorcade zooming into campus! We’ve also been taking advantage of the pool on campus, and our nightly swims have become a sort of ritual. We usually spend our time in the pool recapping our days and talking about what is to come (Chandler has also been trying to teach me how to swim). On Thursday night, it was raining while we were at the pool, and we took this opportunity to make some pretty melodramatic music videos in the pool (see below).

Since Liberia is closer to the beaches than San Jose, we spent our weekend exploring the coastline. On Saturday, we went to Playa Tamarindo, which is about an hour and a half from Earth University. This beach is beautiful and the surrounding town is bustling. A few of us decided to take this opportunity to try out surfing, and purchased surfing lessons at a local company. This was a really cool experience, and was actually so much fun! I was a little nervous about trying it out, but I managed to get up on the board quite a few times, and even wiping out wasn’t so bad. After surfing, we met up with Sofia, a student from our short course with the TEC, and she showed us some cool restaurants to go to.

On Sunday, we had another beach day – this time at Playa Hermosa. As the name would suggest, this beach is very scenic and much more peaceful than Tamarindo. We spent most of the day just lazing around in the sand and the water, playing some games, and collecting seashells and rocks.

This weekend was a welcome change of pace from the busy days of our past few weeks, and I think we all needed some time to relax and mentally prepare for the week to come. This coming week is a big one, as we rush to complete our prototype and get testing results at Hospital Liberia on Friday! Wish us luck, and stay tuned to see how it goes!

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