Christina (second from left), Olivia (second from right) and their team members pose with the GDD 19x (Photo Source: UConn Today)
Each year, HackUConn brings together students and tech industry experts for a non-stop 24 hour invention competition. This year’s theme was Innovating Wellness, and the winning team, MOCK, Inc., created a prototype for a device that could help EMTs distinguish between an opioid overdose and diabetic coma in order to treat patients efficiently and appropriately.
We sat down with Christina Bibinski ’22 and Olivia Tirelli ’22, both first-year Physiology and Neurobiology majors and members of the Women in Math, Science, and Engineering (WiMSE) Learning Community, to hear about their experiences on HackUConn’s winning team, as CLAS majors, and beyond.
What sparked your interest in HackUConn?
Olivia Tirelli (OT): Christina and I were just talking one day and we thought the concept was really cool. We saw it was healthcare related and thought, “Oh! We’re bio majors!” We were just really interested in trying something new.
Christina Bibinski (CB): I did things like this in high school because I was part of a national coding club for girls. Also, since we live in Werth, flyers were posted everywhere. We’re both really interested in healthcare, so we thought, “Why not?”
Tell me about the device you created.
OT: Because of the opioid and diabetes epidemics, when first responders arrive to a scene and the patient is unconscious, they often can’t tell if the patient is overdosing or in a diabetic coma. Narcan, which is used to treat overdoses, is used for almost every case, even when the patient is not overdosing, which is both costly and inefficient.
CB: The GDD 19x – Glucose and Drug Detector 19x – is a small, inexpensive handheld device that is used to detect why the patient is unconscious. One end is able to prick a finger and the other has a screen that shows different concentrations in the blood, such as glucose level, opioids, and other narcotics.
As a CLAS student, what unique ways did you contribute to your team?
OT: Definitely the biology aspect. During brainstorming process our team members had several ideas that Christina and I talked through and decided not to go with because they wouldn’t be possible. We also had to figure out if it’s possible for this device to sense if there are opioids in the blood, something we’re still looking further into.
CB: Engineering is usually such a big part of hackathons. But we were able to bring a more holistic view and look at needs in the healthcare industry. One half of the presentation is the actual product, but the other is making sure the audience understands and that the panel of judges is impressed. Being in CLAS definitely helped with that.
What was the most challenging part of the experience?
OT: The doubt we had throughout the entire competition. At some points, I thought we weren’t going to win because we were girls and it was very male dominated. We were also a team of all freshmen.
CB: It was 11am on Saturday and I asked, “Why am I still doing this? We’re not going to win…” As the presentations neared we were just trying to make sure we’d be understandable, get our details in, and be taken seriously. The doubt was a big challenge but was also why the win was so rewarding.
How did this experience impact your future goals?
OT: I just applied to be a Werth Innovator because I realized I do have ideas and they actually can make a difference. If I just keep at it, I could maybe actually do something with my ideas. I had felt like mine weren’t as important as engineers or people that actually have a label, but everyone has something that they can contribute.
CB: I’ve always done a little bit of this entrepreneur type stuff. I now know I’m not as into the business aspect, but this reaffirmed my love for healthcare and the needs in the field. I never thought I’d be able to do something like this – it made me realize the potential we all have, and that kind of feeling is what I’ll take forward.
What advice do you have for other CLAS students looking to gain experience outside the classroom?
OT: Have faith in yourself. Have confidence and get involved.
CB: Just do it. Stop thinking inside the box all the time. I’m in CLAS because I love the spread of classes I can take. My advice for other CLAS students is to use everything you’re learning, not just what’s for your major or what you think you like best. The world is a big place and we need well-rounded minds out there.
For more information about HackUConn, visit https://hackuconn.uconn.edu/.
For more information about steps you can take now to work towards a successful career (like getting involved in HackUConn), visit https://career.uconn.edu/.