Category Archives: Assignments

Design of a Smart Surgical Knife

Lumpectomy is the preferred surgical treatment for women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. At this stage, the cancerous tissue only forms a small portion of the breast and during lumpectomy, the surgeon removes this portion of the breast along with some surrounded healthy tissue to assure the complete resection of the tumor and meanwhile satisfactory cosmetic outcomes. On the surgical side, the tumor and healthy breast tissue cannot always be clearly distinguished, making it difficult for the surgeon to determine where to dissect the tissue. Difficulty in detecting the border of the tumor in lumpectomy can result in incomplete tumor resection which only can be determined by histopathological investigation of the excised specimens after the surgery. In this case, the treatment of the patient may continue with a re-excision surgery or extra chemotherapy. Using an intraoperative margin assessment technique during lumpectomy could help the surgeon with detecting the border of the tumor and distinguish it from the breast’s healthy tissue. Among different type of techniques, diffused reflectance spectroscopy (DRS) has recently become known as a promising tumor detection technique and has been widely studied for its application in this field. Recently we studied the possibility of integrating an electrosurgical knife with a DRS system to provide the surgeon with real-time oncological guidance during the lumpectomy. To find the optimum design of the smart surgical knife we are looking for an enthusiastic MSc student who can come up with creative design ideas.

If you are interested in designing surgical instruments and preferably have a background in mechanical design, then you are the right person for this MSc project/assignment.  For more information please contact Sara Azizian Amiri,

Design of a bone phantom (CLOSED)

Spinal fusion is the surgical procedure of stiffening parts of the spinal column to reduce back pain for patients affected by multiple diseases. At the BITE group, we are developing a novel drill that allows for the surgeon to steer through the bone along a secure drilling trajectory, avoiding nerves and blood vessels that run along the spinal column.

To help the surgeon find and maintain the right trajectory, an optical sensing system based on Diffuse Reflectance Spectroscopy (DRS) will be integrated into the drill to differentiate the tissue ahead of the tool tip, thereby providing positional feedback for the surgeon in real time.

In the scope of the proposed graduation project, a bone tissue-simulating phantom will be designed that mimics both mechanical and optical properties of human bone. This phantom will allow for mechanical testing of the steerable drill, as well as for optical testing of the sensing system. Eventually, it will also provide a training environment where surgeons can become accustomed to the novel tool.

This assignment will be available from March/April 2021. Interested? Contact Merle Losch,

Exploring hierarchical mechanisms (CLOSED)

Imagine a tower build of LEGO, consisting of a number of bricks that together form a new shape. Now imagine that each LEGO brick is a tiny mechanism, in contact with the mechanisms that surround it. What if we can program each individual mechanism with a very simple task, and are able to turn it on or off when we desire. Could we use these tiny mechanisms as cells that create a new, larger mechanism? Can we create a mechanism that is a lawnmower one day, a coffee machine the next, just by switching on or off certain cells?

We want to use the form complexity of 3D printing to create ‘hierarchical mechanisms’, closely related to metamaterials. This is an exploratory assignment, so we are looking for a creative student with an investigative, curious mind. Some inspirational work is shown on this page.

Interested? This assignment is available starting January/February 2021. Contact Kirsten Lussenburg,

Metamaterial mechanisms by Hasso Plattner Institute

Overview ‹ kinetiX — MIT Media Lab
Kinetix Mechanisms by Tangible Media Group

Core Concept: Mechanical metamaterials bend the rules of everyday physics |  PNAS
Textured Mechanical Metamaterials by Yair Shokef’s Research Group

Non-assembly mechanisms for eye surgery (CLOSED)

Surgical instruments used in eye surgery are very small, which makes it difficult to produce instruments with high functionality. The bottleneck in the production of eye surgical instruments is the assembly step. Assembly has to be done by hand, because of the small size of the parts. Automation is difficult to implement, due to the relatively small number of specific instruments. As a solution to this problem, the complexity offered by 3D printing can be used. A way to do this is to 3D print entire functioning products or mechanism in one single step, without the need of assembling them afterwards, called non-assembly 3D printing.

A vitrectome is a specific instrument used in eye surgery to remove the vitreous from the eye. It consists of two thin, hollow needles that are inserted into the eye, and a handle containing a vibrating mechanism. In this assignment, you will be working on the design of a non-assembly 3D printed vitrectome mechanism, which should have the same specifications as current vitrectomes.

This assignment will be available from January/February 2021. Interested? Contact Kirsten Lussenburg,

Design of a steerable bone screw (CLOSED)

During spinal fusion surgery multiple vertebrae are fused by fixating them together with an internal brace. The brace is connected to a vertebra with pedicle screws. The inside of the bone (cancellous bone) is too weak to achieve sufficient grip. Therefore, screw fixation mainly relies on locations where the screw is in direct contact with the surrounding  layer of the much harder cortical bone. We are developing a steerable bone drill in order to increase the contact area of screws and cortical bone by drilling along the cortical bone layer. An optical sensing system that can differentiate the two types of bone tissue will help the surgeon find and maintain the right drilling trajectory. Furthermore, a novel anchoring device that is flexible during insertion, but becomes rigid once in place will replace straight pedicle screws.

There are multiple graduation projects available related to optical sensing, bone drilling and anchoring.

  • Development of a bone phantom for testing of a steerable drill or screw
    Contact: Merle Losch,
  • Design of a drill prototype to provide directional feedback
    Contact: Merle Losch,
  • Design of  flexible screw that can become incredibly stiff in order to transfer the forces acting of the screw
    Contact: Esther de Kater,

  • Design of a flexible screw that adheres to the bone surface in order to transfer the forces acting on the screw
    Contact: Esther de Kater,

Design of instruments for veterinary interventions

If you are looking for a challenging assignment that combines bio-inspiration with actual animals, I have currently multiple projects available directed towards veterinary research. The projects are in collaboration with the Rotterdam Zoo and Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the University Utrecht. Projects are aimed at surgical interventions of different types of animals, including elephants, rhinos, birds, and horses. A selection of the projects is illustrated below:

  • Suturing abdomen of larger animals

Suturing of the abdomen of larger animals is difficult and often results in ripping along the suture line due to the large force on the stitches. This ripping will in most cases lead to death of the animal. Since operations, such as caesarean sections, can be necessary at time to safe both the mother as well as the offspring, a solution should be found for this problem.

  • Design of an stand-up aid for horses after surgery

When horses suffer a bone fracture, the bone needs to be surgically stabilised using screws and plates. In many cases this is done successfully. However, after the horse wakes up after surgery, they are often very tense and tend to panic, which can result in refracture of the bone. The goal of this project is to design a device that can help the horse to stand up safely after the surgery.

  • Design of a bullet removal device in Elephants and Rhinos

In Africa, elephants and rhinos are often hunted for their tusks. Luckily, on some occasions, the elephants and rhinos are able to get away. However, they often sustain severe damage due to bullet wounds. The main challenge the veterinarians face is the removal of these bullets. These bullets are often very deep inside the animal and, therefore, difficult to reach. Furthermore, they often migrate through the body to deeper locations, potentially becoming life threatening. In this assignment, you will develop a bullet removal device for elephants and rhinos that can be used in the field.

  • Design of a tusk extraction device for Elephants

When an elephant’s tusk breaks off, the living tissue inside the tusk will become exposed. If it is not possible to safe the tusk, the best option is to extract it to prevent further harm to the elephant. However, current methods for removing tusks are difficult to perform. Therefore, in this assignment you will develop a new type of instrument that allows for easy and fast task extraction.

  • Design of a smart hatch for animals in Rotterdam Zoo (internship)

In Rotterdam Zoo, they would like to build a smart hatch system for their Wallabies. This system will allow them to keep track of which animal is where and also allows them to capture specific animals with minimal stress.

  • Design of a tusk protection device for Elephants in Rotterdam Zoo (internship)

On some occasions, an elephant tusk might get damaged and a crack may form. On these occasions, veterinarians often place a metal ring around the tusk to protect the living tissue inside the tusk and prevent further damage. However, these rings are heavy and do not offer full protection. Therefore, in this assignment you will design a new type of tusk “ring”.

Contact: Aimée Sakes,

Design of a Self-Propagating Tree-Root Inspired Needle (CLOSED)

Tree roots are able to find their way through the soil towards a water source. They do this by growing their roots in a special way. First, they extend the middle part of the root into the soil. Second, they thicken the roots.

In this assignment, you will develop a soft tree-root inspired needle that is able to propel itself through the body in a minimally invasive way. The challenge will mainly lie in how you can propagate yourself through the body.

If you are interested in this assignment, please contact: Aimée Sakes,

Tree-Frog Inspired Wall-Climbing Robot (CLOSED)

The tree-frog is able to adhere to multiple surfaces. It does this by employing several strategies, one of which is the use of special “suction-cup” feet.

Based on this principle, in this assignment, you will develop a robotic foot inspired by the tree-frog. This robotic-foot can be used for many different applications. Think, for example, on medical applications, where you need to attach and detach quickly, but also on a wall-climbing robot!

If you are interested in this assignment, please contact: Aimée Sakes,

Design and characterization of a soft gripper for slippery tissue (CLOSED)

Tissue manipulation during surgery is currently done with a grasping forceps. This pinching instrument is prone to errors related to the force that is applied on the gripped tissue. Using too much force may lead to tissue damage.

Inspired by tree frogs, here, we will investigate whether firm but gentle grip on slippery tissue can be generated with grippers containing soft pads. With such a grasper, grip is still friction-based, but does no longer depend on the applied normal load. This probably

In this project, we will implement soft pads into 3D-printed graspers. The grasper design has to be adapted in order to generate load-independent grip. The project includes characterization of a prototype on biological tissues.

Start: January-February 2019

Contact: Peter van Assenbergh,

The Nothern Clingfish, Bio-inspired Suction Cup (CLOSED)

The northern clingfish (Gobiesox maeandricus) is able to adhere to slippery, wet, and irregular surfaces in the marine environment. A study by Wainwright et al. (2013) found that the fish can adhere to surfaces with a broad range of surface roughness, from the finest of sandpaper, to highly irregular surfaces such as rocks. The fishes outperform manmade suction cups, which as many of us know, only adhere to smooth surfaces.

Clingfish are able to adhere to these wet and irregular surface due to their highly sophisticated suction disc. This suction disc consists of a cup with at the edge of the cup structured microvilli, similar to those of geckos. When the fish attaches to a surface, water is forced out from under the suction disc by rocking the pelvic girdle and an area of sub-ambient pressure is created. The microvilli at the edge of the disc, subsequently prevent slip of the cup or premature release by creating friction between the cup and the surface.

In this assignment we will focus on the design of a special bio-inspired suction pad for use in medical application to grip and release slippery, wet and soft tissue without damaging the structure.

If you are interested in this assignment, please contact: Aimée Sakes,