The Berkeley MEng Heating/Cooling Pad capstone team is making contrast therapy more accessible to revolutionize injury treatment.Each UC Berkeley Master of Engineering (MEng) cohort forms teams of students to engineer solutions using cutting-edge technology and methods to address crucial industry, market, or societal needs. Capstone projects are usually proposed by either industry partners or UC Berkeley faculty. This year, however, students are also allowed to initiate their own projects! In this feature, we learn more from the Heating/Cooling Pad capstone team.
The ProjectThe team seeks to develop a contrast therapy device that provides alternating heating and cooling to alleviate muscle soreness, aid in the healing of tissue and alleviate pain. Their end goal is a prototype that can switch from hot (~40°C) to cold (~15°C) treatment in under one minute using a timer or switch. They aim to make their prototype flexible, comfortable, and safe on the skin, suitable for a home environment, and affordable. Celeste Castillo (ME) drew inspiration for this project from her background as a dancer. She has experienced debilitating injuries and was introduced to contrast therapy while living in Japan. She would go to the local bathhouses to alternate between hot and cold baths. “I found that this seriously improved my recovery — with lower muscle soreness, higher energy the next day, and improved flexibility. When I came back to the United States, it was very difficult for me to continue this treatment at home and I became inspired to create a device for everyone to achieve these benefits effortlessly,” says Celeste. The Heating/Cooling Pad capstone team is composed of three MEng students, Celeste Castillo (ME), Jakob Kraiger (BioE), and Zachary Christiansen (ME), with each student bringing their own unique background and experience to the project. They are advised by Prof. Van Carey.
Did you have any work experience that helps with this project?Celeste: Yes, I’ve had various experiences before MEng that complement each other and have helped my way into this program. For the past seven years, I’ve worked a number of jobs including process development engineer, language interpreter, English teacher, health coach, and researcher. My first job as an engineer at a large US company was very open-ended, collaborative, and fast-paced. I learned to be highly adaptable, get comfortable with failure, and gained valuable experience working in creative interdisciplinary teams. Also, as a teacher and coach, I was able to put valuable leadership skills into practice that I use while spearheading this project. This set a great foundation for my career. Jakob: I worked as a medical doctor in Austria. I rotated as a junior doctor between departments and specialties, so I had the chance to meet a variety of patients with diverse problems and learn different approaches to help them. I believe that the experience in working with patients and trying to really understand their problems helped me to elaborate on the actual need we want to fulfill with our heating-cooling pad. Zachary (Zach): I spent a year working as a design and manufacturing engineer at Wearifi, a startup based out of the Querrey Simpson Institute of Bioelectronics at Northwestern University. My work consisted of designing wearable sensor hardware, from printed circuit board design to encapsulation design to manufacturing process optimization. My experience at this job certainly influenced my decision to pursue this capstone project, as I already had experience with designing flexible Peltier module arrays.
This is the first year the Berkeley MEng is allowing student-initiated capstone projects. What’s the project been like so far?Celeste: When I heard that Berkeley MEng was allowing student-initiated projects, I became so excited and immediately began writing a proposal for this project. This process began over the summer. The first semester, we focused on defining the project and identifying our customer value proposition. We did an extensive literature search, modeling of our systems, and interviewed over 50 people including physical therapists, orthopedic surgeons, and a variety of athletes. We are grateful to have the advising and mentorship of Professor Van Carey for this project — he’s been immensely helpful. Going into the second semester, we will be using what we learned to define hardware specifications, brainstorm concepts, and begin prototyping.
After the project was proposed, can you share what the team formation process was like?Celeste: I began searching for teammates over the summer through our student community app, Whova. Zach and I began speaking over the summer through the app, and I met Jakob when he reached out to me at the beginning of the semester. During the semester I pitched the project, advertised it during MEng gatherings and also hosted meetings for smaller groups of interested classmates. Alex Beliaev, Director of Experiential Learning, was very helpful — he joined meetings and was always available to answer logistical questions from students. This process was exciting but difficult. Many students were hesitant to join a student-led capstone project. When I found out that Zach and Jakob had joined the team I was overjoyed! I feel so fortunate to be able to work with Jakob and Zach whose impressive technical ability is relevant to our team goals and who are amazing teammates to work with!
Can you tell us more about your team roles? What have you learned so far about working as a team through this project?Celeste: We are a team of adaptable and self-motivated professionals. We communicate well with each other and fill in as needed in order to make sure our tasks are completed. In the beginning, our roles were more fluid. The three of us participated in literature searches and the customer discovery process. As time went on, we became more specialized. For example, Jakob took on interviewing medical specialists and understanding the relevant literature. Zach spearheaded the modeling of our systems. As the project lead, I took on the role of project and product management, supporting Zach and Jakob with technical tasks whenever it was needed. We all value kindness and good communication. We respect each other and are ready to help each other when needed. This has reinforced my perspective that kindness and adaptability are important characteristics of successful teams. Jakob: We tried early on to promote a sense of psychological safety within our team. Sharing not only the successes but also failures, as well as regular conversations that go beyond professional life, helps us to increase our team cohesiveness and sense of belonging. Zach: I have learned the importance of clear communication as part of this role — poor communication can truly be a bottleneck in projects, and we have successfully avoided this by clearly defining our expectations.
How do your undergraduate backgrounds and work experience help move this project forward?Celeste: My undergraduate work in Mechanical Engineering prepared me with the foundational technical knowledge for this project. In my undergraduate, I also took extra courses in Biology and Dance that helped me learn about the human body and movement. Outside of that, my work experience teaching and coaching helped me to become a people-focused, collaborative leader. Jakob: I spend a lot of time performing interviews with medical experts and potential customers the first semester. My background in medicine allowed me to effectively communicate with experts and have fruitful conversations. Then, I was able to relay this information to my teammates. Zach: My experience with wearable electronics and designing devices that apply heating and cooling to the skin aided me tremendously with the design of our project’s bioheat model, which is used to predict how skin temperature changes with time and depth as heating and cooling is applied. Additionally, I interviewed some of my old coworkers for advice, which was tremendously helpful for finding relevant research manuscripts that helped provide key modeling equations and data for our project.
Do you have any advice for future MEng students considering a student-initiated project?Jakob: I would definitely say “do it!” if you have entrepreneurial aspirations. The student-led capstone project is the closest experience to actually founding a start-up you can have during the MEng program (with the benefit of being in a safe and supportive environment).
“The student-led capstone project is the closest experience to actually founding a start-up you can have during the MEng program (with the benefit of being in a safe and supportive environment).”Zach: If you are someone who loves to challenge yourself and challenge the status quo, then I highly recommend joining a student-initiated capstone project. Being a member of a student-initiated capstone allows you to spend less time writing reports to keep your project partners/clients up-to-date, and spend more time actually making progress on your project. Also, the type of people that gravitate toward student-initiated projects seems to be some of the most impressive, outside-of-the-box thinkers that I have met in the MEng program. Celeste: My main advice is to do it! Don’t be afraid to jump forward and get your idea out there. It is very fulfilling to work on a capstone project that you are personally passionate about. The process will not be easy and there will be many students who are not willing to take the risk to join a student-led project. You will have to inspire others and effectively communicate the value of your ideas. But, as Zach mentioned, the students that will gravitate towards a student-led project will be out-of-the-box thinkers who are excited about a challenge and have similar passions as yourself! For any students who are interested in starting their own project do not hesitate to reach out to me via LinkedIn!
What kind of impact do you want to have on the world?Celeste: I believe that some of the most amazing technology lies within us — our bodies are constantly adapting to our environment and healing. I am fascinated by building products that augment the body’s ability to heal itself — so we can leverage the power within us to be the high-performing human beings we were meant to be! Jakob: I believe we are currently at a very interesting point in time: Medicine is evolving from our current sick-care model to more preventive, predictive, and personalized healthcare. I want to be part of this development and help make our healthcare better, faster, more accessible, and equitable.
“Medicine is evolving from our current sick-care model to more preventive, predictive, and personalized healthcare. I want to be part of this development and help make our healthcare better, faster, more accessible, and equitable.”Zach: If I can make a significant difference in just one single person’s life by bettering their health using technology I’ve worked on or developed, then I will be happy with my impact on the world. If I can make a significant difference in hundreds, or thousands, or millions of people’s lives, even better.
How is your capstone project preparing you for professional leadership?Celeste: Spearheading this project has challenged me to grow as a leader and be vocal about what I feel passionate about. For example, I’ve had to recruit teammates, communicate the project mission and vision effectively, and organize project timelines. I’ve also had to jump in whenever needed to assist in various technical tasks. We’ve also had to reach out to our network for interviews and seek technical information. Pursuing this project at Berkeley gave me a safe and supportive space to grow as a leader. After graduating, I feel much more confident that I will be able to lead this project into the future. Jakob: Being part of a student-led capstone project means starting from scratch and working autonomously — we, therefore, take the lead and push this project forward every single day. Zach: Much of my previous engineering education focused on deductive-type problems, where the objectives and constraints of an engineering problem are well-defined, which is quite the opposite of real-life engineering. Working on a student-initiated project afforded me the opportunity to think much more inductively, focusing a lot of effort into defining the problem and thinking outside-of-the-box to solve the problem. Essentially, this capstone project experience has challenged me to problem-solve in ways that will be extremely relevant to my future career.
“This capstone project experience has challenged me to problem-solve in ways that will be extremely relevant to my future career.”
Special ThanksCeleste: We are really grateful for the support we have received. Alex Beliaev provided so much mentorship and guidance through the process. Prof. Carey has been an incredible advisor to the team. Laleh Shayesteh was kind and available to discuss any questions regarding IP. Coleman Fung met with us and gave us valuable advice on forming our mission and vision. We are grateful for the MEng staff who help us logistically by ordering items and providing workspace, as well as the mentorship of E270K Coaching for High Performing Team instructors Leah Edwards and Bulient Erbigin. We also want to thank I-Corps team Dave Weiner and Darren Cook who helped us in our customer discovery process and Prof. Kosa Goucher-Lambert who gave us valuable advice on creating customer interviews, as well as all of our interviewees who provided us with their time and information. Finally, we’re grateful for our distinguished peers who contributed and helped us with various aspects of the project. Connect with Celeste, Jakob, and Zach. Edited by Danielle Valdez.
How a dancer’s personal experiences influenced the first student-initiated capstone project was originally published in Berkeley Master of Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.