Capstone projects are a key part of the biomedical engineering curriculum that allow students to work on developing real solutions to pressing healthcare problems. These projects give students the opportunity to apply the classroom knowledge and technical skills they have gained throughout their education to design, build, test, and present innovative medical technologies, devices, diagnostics, or systems.
The products of capstone projects have the potential to make meaningful contributions to advancing biomedical engineering research and development. Students work directly with industry partners, clinical collaborators, professors, and others to identify unmet needs and develop prototypes or proof-of-concept projects that can help address those needs. While still in development rather than fully commercialized solutions, these student projects open doors for further research and development by experienced engineers and medical experts.
Many capstone projects directly respond to design briefs provided by industry, startups, hospitals, or clinics. Working with real-world stakeholders ensures students are focusing their efforts on problems of true clinical significance. Industry partners in particular can provide guidance on what technical specifications or regulatory requirements would be needed to eventually translate a student project into a commercial product. Having clinically- and commercially-informed input during the design process helps increase the chances capstone projects move the field forward in a meaningful way.
Some past examples help illustrate the potential impact of capstone projects. One project developed a low-cost infant warmer for use in rural areas without reliable electricity. Field testing in a developing country led to refinements that enhanced the device’s usefulness and safety. That project provided a foundation for further engineering to produce a next-generation infant warmer now being commercialized. Another project created a prototype for a portable, non-invasive glucose monitor. The resulting device showed promise in early feasibility studies and attracted follow-on funding to support more comprehensive clinical trials.
While not all projects will have such direct paths to commercialization or wide adoption, many push the boundaries of biomedical engineering knowledge and spur further inquiry. Presenting their work at academic conferences allows student teams to share their innovations, methods, challenges encountered, and lessons learned with the broader research community. Their projects can inspire new ideas in other investigators or highlight technical barriers still to be overcome. Peer-reviewed publications of capstone findings additionally disseminate student contributions for others to build upon.
Some teams opt to pursue protection of their intellectual property through patent applications before graduation. While patents can take many years to mature, provisional filings at minimum establish earlier conception dates and public disclosures for student inventions. This lays the groundwork should their work attract sponsorship after graduation for more extensive engineering and clinical testing. A few student patents have indeed blossomed into new medical startups or been licensed by existing companies.
Perhaps the greatest contribution of capstone projects is in developing future biomedical engineering leaders. The experience of conceptualizing, prototyping, validating and presenting original research instills practical skills that serve students well in industrial or academic careers. They gain an appreciation for the multidisciplinary collaboration, project management, and rigorous evaluation needed to translate engineering ideas into real-world medical impact. Many capstone participants cite their projects as most influential in deciding their subsequent career paths in medicine, academia, or the medical device industry. Several have even gone on to lead their own successful startup ventures.
Through their applied, hands-on nature, capstone projects allow biomedical engineering students to generate innovative solutions that can potentially help advance healthcare. While not all projects result in commercial products, many push the boundaries of knowledge or provide foundations for future research. By developing technical and problem-solving skills, capstone work additionally cultivates the next generation of biomedical engineers poised to continue driving progress. The potential long-term contributions of these projects to both scientific understanding and improved patient care make capstone experiences a vital part of biomedical engineering education.