Engineering scholar helps provide gift of hearing

5 August 2019
Student contributes to developing life-changing hearing implants during internship with industry leader
Obtaining a six-month research internship with Cochlear through the Engineering Sydney Industry Placement Scholarship Program served as the ideal opportunity for one student to immerse herself in the biomedical industry and help change lives.
Biomedical engineering student Bethany O'Neill is undertaking an research industry placement with Cochlear

For University of Sydney engineering student Bethany O’Neill, the end goal was always to create positive change in people’s lives.

Equipped with a passion for mathematics and science, she found the means to achieve her mission in the field of biomedical engineering, which combines knowledge of various types of engineering with the life sciences to create devices that enhance human lives and improve medical services.

Bethany found an avenue to perform life-changing work through the Engineering Sydney Industry Placement Scholarship (ESIPS), a program designed to provide students with on-the-job experience as part of an industry team under the guidance of an industry mentor and academic supervisor.

Through ESIPS, Bethany completed a six-month placement with Cochlear — a global leader in implantable hearing solutions. The company, headquartered in Sydney, strives to help people struggling with hearing loss live full and active lives.

It has to date provided over 550,000 implantable devices to recipients in over 100 countries.

At Cochlear, Bethany was able to apply what she learnt in the classroom to the workplace, where she performed research, design, lab work, and data analysis to improve the company’s products and operations.

“Already having experience in both electrical and science labs and knowledge of subjects like engineering mechanics, materials and statistics, I was able to confidently operate in labs at Cochlear with minimal supervision,” says Bethany, who is pursuing both a Bachelor of Engineering Honours (Biomedical) and Bachelor of Medical Science.  

Her specific project involved designing, building and testing antenna coils for prototype cochlear implants – the component that receives power and data from the external device through a transcutaneous inductive link.

She cites the most difficult part of her project to be the satisfaction of conflicting design requirements.

“The electrical team wanted a coil that maximised power transfer efficiency to extend battery life, while the mechanical team wanted a coil that was strong and could withstand regulatory mechanical safety requirements,” explains Bethany.

“Meanwhile, the cost of production had to also be low in order to make the product affordable and accessible to as many people as possible.”

Bethany succeeded in changing the coil material, insulation and winding configuration to create a prototype that met all three requirements. In the process, she also became familiar with tooling changes, work instruction updates and alterations to material purchasing that are involved with implementing a coil design change.

She highlights working in a team environment as one of the most valuable parts of her experience, as it allowed her to brainstorm ideas and learn from a variety of people with experience in biomedical, mechanical and electrical engineering.

Despite having minimal professional experience, she still felt that she was able to contribute a new perspective to team discussions and make an impact within the company.

“Overall, the ESIPS placement was a challenging, but a highly rewarding opportunity that allowed me to work both independently and in a team, to actively seek information and be creative in solving open-ended problems.”

“Without a doubt, the best part of my placement at Cochlear was knowing that my work contributed to providing the gift of hearing to people who receive these life-changing devices.”

The Engineering Sydney Industry Placement Scholarship program is valued at $18,000 and designed to place some of our highest achieving students studying either an undergraduate engineering degree or a Master of Professional Engineering within leading industry companies during their final year of studies.

Over the course of a six-month full-time industry placement, each student involved in the program undertakes a high-level investigative project based on the needs of their partner organisation, with the outcomes ultimately being presented to the company.

This industry placement also meets fourth-year course requirements, providing participating students with valuable work experience and six-months credit towards the completion of their engineering degree with no additional time added. 

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