Roche-sponsored Projects Earn High Marks, Adding to History of Success

July 13, 2023


A group of students holds two oversized prize checks
Team 23021 won two awards at the 2023 Craig M. Berge Design Day.

Teams sponsored by Roche Tissue Diagnostics took home multiple awards at the 2023 Craig M. Berge Design Day, continuing decades of partnership between the bioscience company and the University of Arizona. For the most recent academic school year, Roche sponsored four Interdisciplinary Capstone projects, offering scientific resources as well as critical guidance.

This year, Roche teams developed a storage device for laboratory vials to reduce sample damage, a mobile system to detect fluid levels as a subsystem to a future Roche autonomous robot, a device to measure residual chemicals on microscope slides, and more. At Craig M. Berge Design Day, these teams showed off their year’s worth of work and won thousands of dollars in awards. For Roche, the sponsorships are an opportunity to test out ideas and prototypes, while also looking for future employees.

“Even if the project doesn't work directly, it lets us understand the feasibility of an idea and showcase an example prototype,” said Roche Systems Development Lead Ben Blehm, who has mentored several teams over the years. “We make an effort to only sponsor if we have the required support – internal experts, scientists and engineers – to really attend team reviews, help as needed, and provide expert coaching and advice.”

Capstone team 23024, which developed the Cytology Slide Prep and Vial Storage System, won the $1,000 Henry & Suzanne Morgen Award for Best Consideration of The End User. The team designed a specialized tray for cryotechnicians to keep patient samples and slides safe, reducing sample damage and human error.

Capstone team 23027 developed a contactless vision system to automatically sense reagent fluid levels for a tissue staining instrument used in detecting diseases such as cancer. The device can detect fluid levels within 5% of the true volume.

Beyond forming a symbiotic relationship with the engineering teams, the capstone sponsorships are also an opportunity for Roche to prospect bright new engineering graduates.

“I have personally helped hire several senior-design-sponsored students. It is an excellent way for our engineering teams to meet and become familiar with potential employees,” Blehm said. “Sometimes even a couple years down the road, these connections will pay off.”

Capstone team 23028 worked on the same Roche tissue staining instrument as team 23027. However, they focused on creating a system to capture side-view images of microscope slides to determine residual fluid. Designed for simplicity and minimal user interaction, their system reduces the amount of time scientists spend measuring remaining fluid volumes.

Capstone team 23021 took home two awards: the $500 Ergo Dave Award for Best Use of Human Factors Engineering and the $500 AZ Technica Award for Manufacturing Readiness. The team designed and prototyped a medical-grade spigot to reduce safety hazards in laboratories, as existing systems can leak dangerous chemicals.

According to team lead and mechanical engineering graduate Daniel Ramos Flores, team 23021 formed three subgroups for the project: design, testing and logistics. Using computer-assisted design, 3D fabrication, and chemical testing, the team enjoyed a variety of real-world experience.

“Our differentiating factor was the comprehensive package we developed, which included all necessary drawings, standards, and cost information for our sponsor,” Flores said. “Our goal was to hand off the project to the sponsor, enabling them to begin production seamlessly, which we achieved successfully.”

Flores says that through strong communication, a clear division of labor, and dedication to the work, the team made consistent progress throughout the project.

Roche supported the team by reviewing their work through each milestone and allowed the students to use their machine shops and laboratories.

“The team was incredibly fortunate to have Roche as a sponsor for this project. Their unwavering support, valuable guidance, and abundant resources played a crucial role in our success,” Flores said.

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