SurgiBox wins AAAS Science and Human Rights poster competition

Debbie Lin Teodorescu.


Surgibox under development.


Maddie Hickman, MIT 2011.


MIT D-Lab Special Projects Coordinator Dennis Nagle.

D-Lab associate Debbie Lin Teodorescu, D-Lab special projects coordinator Dennis Nagle, D-Lab alumna Madeline Hickman, and David King of Massachusetts General Hospital have come together over the last several years to produce SurgiBox, which recently won an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) human rights poster competition, held in Washington, DC.

SurgiBox: safe, aseptic surgery where none was previously possible

Over 25 percent of the global disease burden requires surgical therapy, which could prevent over 18 million deaths per year. Yet two billion people have no access to surgical care, and two to three billion have access only to unsterile surgeries. Costly infectious complications strain countries' medical budgets. 

The goal of the SurgiBox is to improve access to safe, aseptic surgery even in settings lacking standard surgical facilities, while making operating safer, more ergonomic, and less cumbersome for healthcare providers.

SurgiBox shrinks the problem of surgical sterility from operating-room-sized to less than one-fifth of a cubed meter. A user seals the system of sterile clear containers over the patient and operates via ports. Modules can augment the sterile field. An integrated ventilation system controls field conditions.

The device can collapse to backpack size for rapid deployment in emergency and remote settings. SurgiBox exemplifies how collaboration among engineering, medicine, and social sciences can help overcome resource and infrastructural barriers to implementing global surgery as a human right.

The SurgiBox story: exemplifying the way D-Lab brings people together

In 2011, while Debbie was at medical school, the original SurgiBox concept was born. The idea was to create a way to keep the area right around a wound sterile by covering it with a container and operating through ports. But she had no idea how to make it a reality. None of her medical colleagues had ideas either.

But Debbie had visited D-Lab a couple of years earlier and found it "an incredibly welcoming place." So, as she begain to toss the idea for SurgiBox around, Debbie contacted José Gomez-Marquez and Anna Young who made up the D-Lab Health team at the time, and they invited Debbie to work on the idea at the old D-Lab space on Carleton Street.

Debbie remembers, "They modestly said it could be a safe place for exploring, like one's own home garage - but I would definitely say that D-Lab is much better than any garage, because of the energetic community, the great hands-on teaching, and the makerspace setup."

D-Lab special projects coordinator Dennis Nagle got involved from very early on and has been an in-the-trenches supporter for SurgiBox throughout its development. In addition to teaching Debbie all about shop machines and materials including LEDs, and fans, and more, Dennis's expertise with plastics has been essential to the project's advancement. Together, Debbie and Dennis built prototypes and planned and ran tests side-by-side. Debbie says, "The SurgiBox Alpha Prototype (a tiny straw version) sits permanently on Dennis's desk because he helped drive the evolution of the original clunky box concept to a light drape/tent-like one."

In 2014, Maddie Hickman, then an MIT D-Lab student, joined the project and the team continue to move the project through successive prototypes. The current design embodies their ambitious goal: to offer a sterile surgical space that, when deployed, is as good as or better than that in any operating room in Boston, but can be collapsed for easy transport. It is, in essence, an operating room in a backpack. 

Debbie says, "We are in the midst of testing and tweaking the design now. It was extremely gratifying to receive a lot of useful feedback at the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition conference, and be recognized for a what the judges described as 'very timely, creative project...on a critically important issue.'"

 Pursuing a D-Lab-inspired joint degree in medicine and mechanical engineering When not working on SurgiBox, Debbie is finishing up an MD degree at Harvard Medical School with the support an AAUW fellowship recognizing her efforts in medicine and biomedical technology. She says that D-Lab inspired her to create the first joint MD/MEng degree at Harvard, completing the MEng component in biomedical engineering at Boston University in 2015. Prior to D-Lab, Debbie worked on low-cost diagnostic platforms and also on cost-effective ways to screen for individuals at exceptional risk of heart failure as well as sudden cardiac death. She is passionate about harnessing technology to solve patient care problems, and make the world a healthier place. 

The SurgiBox team is grateful for funding from the Harvard Medical School Scholars in Medicine Office. The team also thanks Jose Gomez-Marquez and Anna Young for design and implementation advice; MIT D-Lab Workshop manager Jack Whipple for machine shop assistance; and Drs. Christiana Iyasere, Stephen Odom, and Dana Stearns for support. They also thank MIT’s Environmental Health Services, MIT Office of Technology Development, and Partners Research Ventures & Licensing for their support.



MIT Connection connects D-Lab to MIT alumni in New York.

D-Lab co-director Victor Grau Serrat addresses the attendees.

Enjoying the event!

Learning by doing: trying out D-Lab cornshellers.

Question and answer period.

On Monday, May 11th, D-Lab co-director Victor Grau Serrat and development officer Peggy Eysenbach traveled to New York City to present at an MIT Connection event for New York City-area MIT alumni.

This was the second event in The MIT Connection series developed for MIT alumni 11 to 24 years past graduation as a way to stay connected to MIT by attending MIT volunteer led events, sharing ideas for future activities, and giving back to support MIT’s mission.

The D-Lab presentation centered on Creative Capacity Building and D-Lab's participatory approach to building innovation capabilities in local communities. The presentation was followed by a panel of D-Lab alumnae including Tiffany Guo, Caroline Hane-Weijman, and Tina Leimbach (formerly Tina Ro), moderated by Victor. Panelists reflected on their D-Lab trips and experiences followed by a lively question and answer session! See Three D-Lab Alumnae, Four Questions to read their reflections on their D-Lab experience.

Following the panel discussion, guesst had the opportunity to interact with some of the tools that have been created at D-Lab to tackle the global poverty challenge and to support current Institute initiatives that are redefining technological solutions for people living at the base of the economic pyramid.

Reflections on an earthquake: moving from plight to promise

By Kofi Taha, D-Lab Associate Director

Kofi Taha

When tragedies such as the earthquake in Nepal strike, we are all called upon to act, be it through active participation in relief efforts, donations, prayers or reflection.

These moments highlight our shared humanity, our collective vulnerability and resilience, and our inescapable dialogue with the earth. Our hearts ache, our hope endures, we learn and we seek pathways between plight and promise. 

I feel deeply privileged to be part of D-Lab where we collectively try to learn how to best answer the call to act, not only in moments of dramatic crisis, but also in response to the quiet crises that threaten opportunity and well being every day for half the world's population.

Through our small program – where an exciting mixture of students, staff, faculty, alumni and international collaborators from the public and private sector regularly interact with creative force – we will only touch a tiny fraction of the need we speak of when discussing "global poverty," but without a doubt, we are learning more everyday about moving from plight to promise. 

You are invited to explore the wide range of ways we pursue this knowledge, be it through class projects that will be highlighted in the D-Lab Spring Student Showcase, hosting the multi-disciplinary MIT Scaling Development Ventures conference, partnerships with international organizers to hold International Development Design Summits in three countries this summer, launching an alliance of corporate, social sector and nonprofit actors interested in social impact, or disseminating our research briefs.

All of these activities are outstanding examples of how D-Lab strives to learn how technology and innovation can measurablly and ethically contribute to ending poverty.  

D-Lab Spring Student Showcase & Open House 2015

Final presentations & working prototypes from current D-Lab students

Friday, May 8, 5:30-7:30 pm - D-Lab, MIT N51 3rd floor (350)



Students from D-Lab: Design, D-Lab: Earth, D-Lab: Energy, and D-Lab: Dissemination WASH-Env will be presenting projects. In addition, several UROPs will present the work they have done this semester through D-Lab. See below for projects that will be presented.

To kick things off, students will give brief presentations. Attendees will then be able to view all the working prototypes on display throughout the D-Lab space! All welcome.

Courses & Projects

D-Lab: Design addresses problems faced by underserved communities with a focus on design, experimentation, and prototyping processes. (Instructor: Matt McCambridge. TA: Jessica Artiles.)

Student Projects:

A means of fermenting Cacao in small batches to make it possible for small farmers to sell rare varieties at higher cost (Puerto Rico)
A means of manufacturing durable, high-traction crutch tips locally (Guatemala)
A device to allow riders who have only one arm to propel a wheelchair (Guatemala)
A means of separating the fine-grained sawdust used to manufacture ceramic water filters (Uganda)
A means of producing high-grade avocado oil at the village level (Tanzania)
A means of extracting essential oils for adding value to locally produced cosmetics (Ghana)
  • A means of fermenting Cacao in small batches to make it possible for small farmers to sell rare varieties at higher cost (Puerto Rico)
  • A means of manufacturing durable, high-traction crutch tips locally (Guatemala)
  • A device to allow riders who have only one arm to propel a wheelchair (Guatemala)
  • A means of separating the fine-grained sawdust used to manufacture ceramic water filters (Uganda)
  • A means of producing high-grade avocado oil at the village level (Tanzania)
  • A means of extracting essential oils for adding value to locally produced cosmetics (Ghana)

D-Lab: Energy offers a hands-on, project-based approach that engages students in understanding and addressing the applications of alternative energy technology in developing countries where compact, robust, low-cost systems for generating power are required. (Instructors: Libby Hsu & Amit Gandhi)

Student Projects:

  • An energy assessment of an off-grid village, with a plan for bringing electric lighting options to community members (El Salvador)
  • A new biodigester design targeted at key community members or future dissemination (El Salvador)
  • Testing of a passive heating strategy for a high-altitude school (Peru)
  • A solar cooker design targeted towards the needs of residents of the Andes (Peru)

D-Lab: Dissemination WASH-Env focuses on disseminating Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) or water/environment innovations in developing countries and underserved communities worldwide. (Instructor: Susan Murcott.)

Student Projects:

  • Initiative WASH (Burkina Faso)
  • Water Ecuador (Ecuador)
  • Change: WATER (Jordan)
  • SoapMagic: Waterless Hand Hygiene (Ghana)

D-Lab: Earth is a hands-on, multi-disciplinary exploration of the dynamic nexus between global biodiversity and human well-being. (Instructors: Eric Reynolds & Ariel Phillips)

Student Projects:

  • Creative Capacity Building Workshop with City Growers (Boston)
  • Alternative Waste Streams (Bangkok)
  • Ecotourism (Nepal)
  • Awesome Aquaponics
  • Permaculture and Land Restoration (China)
  • Affordable Soil Sensing
  • Water Filtration/irrigation System (Bali)
  • COMACO Case Study in (Zambia)

UROPs, IROPs, and Independent Studies: Each semester, through the MIT Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) several students engage in research at D-Lab. This semester, students working with D-Lab research scientists Rich Fletcher, Dan Sweeney, and Pedro Reynolds-Cuéllar will be featured at the Showcase. 

D-Lab UROP Projects from Dan Sweeney's Biomass Fuel and Stoves Group:

  • MIT Engineers Without Borders Charcoal Project (Uganda, Tanzania)
  • Charcoal UROPs Justin Carrus and Sally Miller (joint presentation) (Botswana)
D-Lab UROP Projects from Rich Fletcher's Mobile Technology Group:
  • USB for Android (India)
  • Digital Farming (India)
  • Diagnostic Platform for Pulmonary Disease
  • Induction Stoves (India)
  • Mobile Fluorometer for Low-Cost Diagnostics (India)
D-Lab UROP, IROP, and Independent Studies with Pedro Reynolds-Cuéllar
  • Waste Free Myanmar (Myanmar)
  • Kepler-MIT Lab (Rwanda)
  • Cocina Cohetres  (Peru)







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