Physics Students Work to Improve Geriatric Care

Timing is everything. Never could have anyone predicted that the conclusion of this year’s experiential-based physics project would align so perfectly with front page provincial news during a worldwide pandemic.

Since January, Grade 12 physics students at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) have made use of the engineering design process to analyze the growing geriatric population in Canada and provide much-needed solutions.

“As we were formulating our ideas for the engineering design project in December, Michael Bakaic ’07, and I had chosen a problem focused on geriatric care, considering the stories that were already abound. Little did we know that through the COVID-19 pandemic, problems in geriatric care would be magnified,” says Frank Heijmans, Head of Science and Grade 12 physics teacher at SMCS.

Grade 12 student engineering design presentations for St. Michael's College School physics course.

Grade 12 St. Michael's College School physics students present their final engineering design project to their teacher, Frank Heijmans and a panel of judges.

The project, which also counts as the students’ final physics assessment, provides a unique opportunity to explore the engineering design process and propose a meaningful solution. 

“It’s an invaluable process for our students, many of whom will move to university engineering programmes and use this on a regular basis,” says Heijmans.

To kick off the project in January, several alumni and friends of SMCS delivered a half-day workshop on the engineering design process. Following the workshop, an outline and background information was reviewed with the students.

The Annual Engineering Design Workshop at SMCS in 2020

The Engineering Design Workshop that took place at St. Michael's College School in January 2020.

Four groups of four to five students, participated in the University of Toronto (U of T) Engineers Without Borders Innomasters Program, on Saturday mornings from late January to early April. They went through the engineering design process with U of T engineering students. Various ideas were explored from vertical greenhouse systems, to self-propelling ramp systems, to waste removal systems. 

Those students not able to attend the U of T program, formed seven groups of four to five students and began their work on investigating geriatric care. In addition to the support received through the curriculum, Heijmans offered mentorship and feedback to each group individually through two formal meetings, in person and via a Zoom session.

“As we moved through the group meetings, I was impressed by the focus and depth of the work,” says Heijmans. “The students quickly adapted to the design process.”

On May 20, the final presentations took place virtually and included a 20-minute presentation followed by questions from the judges. Joining Heijmans on the judges’ panel were four alumni who are budding experts in the industry: Michael Bakaic ’07, Seung (Charlie) Yang ’15, Alessandro Cunsolo ’16, and Justin Prez ’17. In addition to their final presentation, the groups were judged on their digital notebook that outlined their progress and reflections on their work, and their design proposal.

SMCS student engineering design project focusses on improving geriatric care.

Grade 12 St. Michael's College School physics students present their prototype design for their final engineering design project.

"I was very impressed with the work that students produced in such a short amount of time, they exceeded my expectations,” says Yang, who just finished his bachelor of engineering science from the University of Toronto and is headed to San Francisco at the end of the summer to work for Google. “What impressed me the most was that students independently went out of their way to learn and apply things like modelling with CAD (Computer Aided Design) software or coding up a python application."

Bakaic, a mechanical engineer and co-owner of startup, Fibos Inc., who volunteered last year as a design process mentor to the Science Department, shared similar praise for the graduating students.

“I was floored by the quality of the presentations. Without exaggeration, the technical details of some of the proposed solutions rivaled university final capstone projects,” says Bakaic. “Their presentations skills, technical exercise, and engagement with the design framework remark favourably on the students' preparedness for university engineering programmes. Overall, it clearly demonstrated the value of this experience-based pedagogy.”

AND THE AWARDS GO TO…

Best Presentation: The PillPro Medicine Delivery System
Group Members: Lucas D’Elia, Alexander Casalanguida, Luke DeBartolo, Owen Jory, Tristan Belaisis

Grade 12 student engineering design project for St. Michael's College School physics course.


This group presented a comprehensive plan on their design of the PillPro that incorporated various aspects of the engineering design and programming of their technology, as well as the marketing considerations. The technology students used to prepare the solution included: CAD software using Fusion 360, a microcontroller system using Arduino sensors and electronics, an app using the Python programming language, and a seamless graphic user interface for clients. These students were able to clearly demonstrate their use of the engineering design process from developing the scope of their problem to brainstorming and prototyping. Through multiple iterations of their prototype they were able to provide a clearly thought out solution to their chosen problem. The presentation of an engaging marketing plan and humourous advertisement capped off the well-executed presentation.

Most Innovative Solution: Lee Plus 3 Transdermal Medicine Patch
Group Members: Eric Mugford, Andrew Lee, Ethan Bourdos, Jack Farlow

Grade 12 student engineering design project for St. Michael's College School physics course.


Once this group identified the importance of improving the efficacy in how elderly take their medicine, they considered different possibilities and settled on the technology of the transdermal patch to reduce problems of other delivery systems. The innovative component was in recognizing that the science-based concept of membrane permeability, used in other applications, would allow them to deliver antibiotics through the transdermal patch, a very common medicine required by the elderly. Through a scientific analysis of different options, they were able to develop a working model that they simulated with Fusion 360. Initial discussions with various stakeholders suggested a strong interest in the idea and the potential for use with other medicines.

Most Functional Solution: The Rotensil Utensil for Eating
Group Members: Nicholas Baldassini, Joshua Argiropoulos, John Balawejder, John Sopta, Adriano Vettese

SMCS student engineering design project on geriatric care involving a device to reduce trembling.


Mobility, dexterity, and trembling are all possible issues that elderly may have while eating. This group addressed all these concerns with their design of the Rotensil, an adjustable device that is weighted to reduce trembling and uses mechanical advantage to propel the fork or spoon to the mouth.  

After moving through the framing and diverging stages of the engineering design process, the group was able to use the PUGH Chart – a comparative weighted ranking system of different solutions – to identify the Rotensil as a very functional device that will make life easier for seniors. They iterated their prototype from hand sketches to multiple CAD designs using TinkerCAD.  Then considering the dexterity of seniors in their design, they switched to a sliding mechanism that angles the eating tool towards the mouth, instead of a rolling wheel.