Remember how I said I didn’t spend every day in jungle… well this all changed when we entered Phase 2 in Guanacaste!
This past week in Guanacaste has been very eye-opening in learning more about Costa Ricans values – beyond the Pura Vida lifestyle. I am especially referring to their huge efforts in shifting to a mostly environmentally green country, dependent solely on their own energy productions! We also finally had the chance to explore the beaches of Costa Rica; no trip is complete without a beach day… or two.
This Saturday and Sunday were devoted to the beautiful beaches of Guanacaste. On Saturday we ventured out to Tamarindo, a muy famosa playa de surf, where we of course surfed somewhat successfully. This beach was very lively and lined with many trees around the entire perimeter. Vendors strolled non-stop selling everything from coconuts to homemade cakes. Horses galloped along the beach side, yoga classes were in session on the sand, and mini-boats transported guests back to shore from guided boat trips. It was definitely an interesting town with many tourists and sights to see!
The next day, we were a little exhausted and some of us were sunburnt so we stayed more local and went to Playa Hermosa (not to be confused with Playa Fea… just kidding). It was indeed beautiful and much calmer compared to Tamarindo. The sun peeked out from behind the clouds after lunch, which made us almost forget it was the rainy season here in Costa Rica!
Rewind to last Monday-After our presentations at the design competition, we got on the road for a four hour drive to Liberia, Guanacaste. It was a beautiful drive that passed through vast green landscapes and along the Pacific Ocean. We finally had the opportunity to stop at Pop’s, a popular ice cream shop scattered throughout Costa Rica!
And once we arrived in Liberia, we had a delicious traditional Tico meal before heading into Universidad Earth- La Flor. A bumpy 7 km road led into the main part of the campus and although it was dark, the lodges we were going to stay in looked like your ideal summer camp location with wooden buildings and dark figures of trees surrounding them. This was going to be where we called home for the next two weeks. We instantly were introduced to the mass of bugs, reptiles, amphibians, and animals that also called this place home. Essentially, we were in the jungle!
The next morning I met one of the critters I mentioned above- a lizard who was inside my room on the window and within a blink of an eye disappeared (I have yet to find my lizard friend- but I don’t mind if it sticks around and eats the bugs in my room). We had the privilege to meet the President of Earth University and he introduced us to the school mission, model, and practices. They funnel all their efforts to local agricultural innovations and clean energy developments, with students from all around the world who are motivated in entrepreneurship. In addition, 80% of their student body is fully funded through their agricultural production sales. One example is the bananas, mangoes, and coffee they sell in most Whole Foods Markets in the United States (which on a side note, were recently bought by Amazon…). Later that day, we continued on to another university called Invenio that had a much more tech based approach in their engineering. Invenio seeks to immerse their students in the work industry in parallel to their school education. They also held a similar mission as Earth University in delivering clean energy to Costa Rica, especially to their local area of Cañas. Invenio is important to us at GMI because we plan to collaborate with them in the design and building of our dialysis project in their workshop all next week. The models of education in the universities in Costa Rica have a great potential to inspire other universities worldwide, especially ones in emerging markets. After our long day of meetings, we took advantage of the pool on the Earth University campus, which evolved to become a nightly ritual in the days that followed.
On Wednesday we began our morning by making a trip to Ad Astra, a plasma rocket company located on the Earth University’s campus. Although this visit did not concern Bioengineering- it was such a cool learning experience on the work of in-space propulsion. Our tour was given by a former Rice Ph.D. graduate who now works for Ad Astra. If you have ever asked yourself why astronauts want to go into space- the answer we were given was for planetary redundancy. Just like we have a cloud to back up our photos and such, I guess it only makes sense to need a back-up planet. The engine they are working on is called VASMIR (Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket). The way it works is through an electric propulsion engine that uses Argon as a propellant (or any other noble gas) which is then bombarded with a special antennae that ionizes and heats it up to 40,000 C. The plasma is then contained within the engine using a cylindrical magnetic field and generates a low thrust of 5 N. Yes, you read that correctly- 5 N. Electric propulsion engines show their strengths in speed and efficiency, to the point where this engine can reach Mars in 39 days. A nice metaphor he mentioned was that chemical propulsion is similar to 1st gear in car (a lot of force but slow), where electrical propulsion is similar to 5th gear (fast and efficient). We also learned about their progressions in renewable energies. Their whole building was completely powered by the solar panels outside their building. In addition, they aim to integrate renewable energy with hydrogen powered storage and in July they will have their first hydrogen powered bus in Guanacaste! The rest of the afternoon was spent at Hospital Liberia, where we visited the Pathology department. The head of pathology there was so passionate about his job. He spoke of how he saw each tissue sample as an art piece- each unique in its own way. We allowed him to explain to us about the issues present in their department and what parts they hoped to improve. Following our “needs finding” session, we met with Dr. Ana Cecilia Rodriguez who has been a great influence on the start of GMI’s involvements in Guanacaste. She has been deeply invested in researching cervical cancer for the past 25 years and has conducted three major clinical studies throughout Costa Rica.
Thursday was spent at Invenio for design planning our DialOasis project that we will start on Monday and conducting more hospital observations at Hospital Liberia. Our meeting with the head engineers at Invenio was focused on discussing the materials we will use and logistical considerations of our project. The goal of DialOasis was to provide peritoneal dialysis patients the liberty to perform dialysis in a sterile environment in their homes; therefore many aspects needed to be reviewed. It was bit difficult to follow along with the engineers at Invenio because they only spoke Spanish and much of it was technical engineering terms. One of my goals for this trip is to become more familiar with engineering Spanish terms, especially when I start my internship at Boston Scientific. After two hours of back and forth brainstorming and many whiteboard sketches we finally reached a consensus on the direction we aim to take. Subsequently, we returned to Hospital Liberia to analyze the Physical Therapy department and Dialysis department. In the PT department, many of their issues centered on accessibility of wheel chair patients for a wider range of therapies. We unfortunately did not see an example patient or procedure that displayed their problem but the physical therapists thoroughly informed us of each angle of their difficulties, which was very helpful. The Dialysis department was especially critical for us to visit. We had the opportunity to talk to the nurses who worked with the dialysis patients each day and discuss how we can replicate a similar environment in our project. The dialysis patients were so happy to see us and were looking forward to us providing them with what they call ‘cuartitos’ (cuartitos= little homes). Having the ability to see the impact we can make on patients and their reactions to these innovations was motivational in itself. These observations brought several important questions to mind, especially when proceeding with our implementation project.
The visit to the Dialysis department gave us a prime example of what we hoped to emulate within DialOasis. Our plans for this project were all fleshed out on Friday where we spent the entire day prepping for our first ‘Sprint’! A ‘sprint’ is essentially a method to test out a new innovation on an established model and obtain customer feedback all within 5 days. Talk about efficient! This was going to be new to me, especially coming from a research mentality. A major part of project management is reliant on the saying “Plans never work but planning always does”.
Therefore we created a thorough and detailed Work Breakdown Structure, which is similar to a Gantt chart but in a different format. We had to focus on taking a top down then bottom up approach in our plan for next week to insure each step necessary to take was explicitly written down. Although this may sound tedious to some, once it is completed you feel accomplished and driven to start with the first step. It breaks up a seemingly enormous task into several tiny deliverables capable of easily grasping one at a time. We have three teams working on different aspects- materials, building, and testing. I am on the building team, where I hope to expand my CAD abilities and work with my hands to transform a computer-based design to physical object.
Next week tune into GMI for updates on our ‘sprint’ for DialOasis this week. Thanks for reading!! Pura Vida.