Western New England University's Brian Dutra Wins First Place at International Engineering Competition

Published: Nov 15, 2012

SPRINGFIELD, Mass - Western New England University graduate student Brian Dutra won first place in the Old Guard Oral Presentation Competition held at the 2012 American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ (ASME) International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition held in Houston, Texas. The competition is designed to emphasize the value of an ability to deliver clear, concise, and effective oral presentations.

Dutra claimed the top prize for his presentation on “Acoustophoretic Separation of Lipid Particles from Red Blood Cells,” a process of removing microscopic impurities from blood using ultrasonic standing waves.

“The particle in particular we are trying to filter out is small fat cells that are sometimes reintroduced to a patient's blood during cardiac bypass surgery,” said Dutra. “Typical filtration methods are inefficient or ineffective, and these dangerous lipids can cause travel to the brain and block blood vessels, leading to stroke or other adverse effects post operation.” Dutra’s project was supervised by Dr. Bart Lipkens, professor of mechanical engineering and one of the founding members of FloDesign Sonics, the first technology transfer spin-off company born at the College of Engineering.

“The potential industrial and life science innovations available by harnessing the power of acoustics are nearly unlimited," says Lipkens. Other potential applications include the detection of cancer cells in the bloodstream, filtering contaminants out of polluted water, and separating algae-based biofuels from biomass.

Dutra went on from working on a senior project sponsored by FloDesign Sonics to becoming a summer intern and ultimately an employee of the Wilbraham-based company. Dutra’s internship was made possible by the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center’s Internship Challenge – a workforce development program focused on enhancing the talent pipeline for Massachusetts companies engaged in life sciences. This year-round program reimburses eligible companies, like FloDesign Sonics, for intern stipends.

“On behalf of the Center, I would like to congratulate Brian on his extraordinary achievement,” said Susan Windham-Bannister, Ph.D., President and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, the agency charged with implementing Governor Partick’s 10-year, $1 billion Life Sciences Initiative. “The Center’s Internship Challenge Program is designed to provide hands-on life sciences exposure and experiences to the next generation of our workforce, so we are thrilled that we helped give Brian the opportunity to begin this project with FloDesign Sonics. I look forward to seeing more groundbreaking work from Brian as he launches his career and will take great satisfaction in knowing that the Center lent a hand!”

“The Internship Challenge provided the necessary funding to allow Brian a test drive in a life science career. It worked -- he loved the project and he got hired,” says Stanley Kowalski III, Chairman of FloDesign Sonics. “It’s the perfect blend of corporate, state, and academic partnerships.”

A 2012 graduate of Western New England University’s College of Engineering, Dutra is currently pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering with FloDesign's support. He was among 14 students from across the country and around the world selected to participate in this year’s ASME Oral Presentation finals.

“The competition consisted of talented students from around the world, presenting topics ranging from redesigning the combustible engine to an innovative new product design for a wheelchair,” said Dutra. “I am grateful for this opportunity from the ASME Old Guard and thankful to everyone who helped me get this far, especially my faculty advisors and corporate sponsors.”

Dutra previously won the District A regional competition held at Yale University in April while he was an undergraduate. The ASME Congress brings together engineers and research scientists from around the world to discuss breakthrough innovations that are shaping the future of engineering.

Western New England University is a private, independent, coeducational institution founded in 1919. Located on an attractive 215-acre suburban campus in Springfield, Massachusetts, Western New England serves 3,700 students, including 2,500 full-time undergraduate students. Undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs are offered through Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business, Engineering, and Pharmacy and the School of Law.

Back to news