Students: Jacob Dubner ’17 and Jack Waters ‘17
Class: Research Science
What it does: The ORTube is a 3D-printed tool designed to help people accurately, easily, and inexpensively prepare and administer oral rehydration solution—consisting of salt, sugar, and clean water—in combination with a one-liter soda bottle.
How they did it: The duo researched the most effective proportions of salt and sugar, corroborating their findings with Magee Women’s Hospital gastroenterologist and WT alum Dr. Janet Harrison. They utilized 3D-modeling software program Fusion 360 to develop a tool that would measure accurately, load easily into a bottle with minimal spillage, and feature simple directions in six different languages. The ORTube was 3D printed with antibacterial plastic.
Inspiration for project: An AP Language and Composition reading assignment describing efforts to combat a cholera epidemic in India.
Target application: People who live in developing areas, where children are at high risk for contracting diarrheal diseases like rotavirus, cholera, and E. coli. According to the World Health Organization, each year diarrheal disease kills nearly 525,000 children under age five.
Biggest challenge: Avoiding deformities when 3D printing plastic models. ”Because of the large open cavities in the middle of the tube, we thought for most of the year that we’d have to find some way to change the design in order to remove the necessary support material,” recalls Jack. Iterations included a tube that splits in half and screws back together, and another made of water soluble plastic. “Eventually, we just tried increasing the infill—basically the density of the plastic—and eliminating all internal support materials, and because the design was sturdy enough, it didn’t have any problems. This was mildly infuriating because of all the time and plastic we spent on this problem, but it was satisfying to find a solution, and it reinforced the idea that simpler is almost always better.”
“Not all of the questions that we had to answer were clearly presented to us like they would be on a test in a regular course, and not all of answers clearly correlated to a strict curriculum for a single class,” adds Jacob. “Instead, we had to be the ones asking questions, recognizing problems, and solving those problems by drawing from the toolbox of skills that we have accumulated over the years. Because we were responsible for asking the right questions and making the key decisions, it was especially rewarding when we ended up with a successful product.”
Importance of STEM at WT: “STEM really teaches you how to confront issues,” asserts Jack. “If you know how to reach for and manipulate variables, you can put them towards finding solutions for very complex problems.”
Valuable Lesson Learned: “For me, the most valuable lesson is that when you direct your time and effort towards solving a problem in the real world, there is never really a definite and single finish line like there usually is in the classroom,” says Jacob
Nearly 525,000 children die each year of cholera, rotavirus, and other types of diarrheal disease—the second leading cause of death worldwide in children under age five. Now, a 3D-printed tool designed by Jacob Dubner '17 and Jack Waters ’17 called the Oral Rehydration Therapy tube, or ORTube, could help to change that, say judges who awarded them second place in the Medicine/Health/Microbiology category at the Pittsburgh Regional Science & Engineering Fair (PRSEF).
“They were most impressed with the simplicity of our design and the ability of our project to have a real impact on the global issue of diarrheal disease,” shares Jacob.
The ORTube makes it easy for anyone to prepare ORS, or oral rehydration solution—a mixture of salt, sugar, and clean water that replaces lost body fluids. The ORTube’s clearly labeled compartments, and a companion custom-designed funnel, guide accurate amounts of salt and sugar into a water-filled one-liter bottle. Next, the ORTube is attached to the bottle, which is shaken to blend the ingredients. Finally, the ORTube’s nozzle enables patients to safely consume ORS directly from the bottle.
An AP Language and Composition reading assignment about a cholera epidemic in India inspired the ORTube, says Jack. “Trained individuals [went] door-to-door to give families training in how to create oral rehydration solutions. The article noted how this was slow and expensive, but I also noted that the actual training wasn’t very scientific and in some cases it could even lead to dangerously incorrect proportions in the solutions.”
The validation that came with having an expert professional such as Dr. Harrison tell us that we might be onto something with the ORTube gave us confidence that our work was not just another simulated and contained assignment, but something that could actually have an impact outside the WT bubbleJacob dubner '17
In Graig Marx’s Research Science class, Jack and Jacob devised solutions to those drawbacks. They researched the most effective proportions of salt and sugar, landing upon the World Health Organization’s official recipe for homemade ORS and corroborating their findings with Magee Women’s Hospital gastroenterologist and WT alumna Dr. Janet Harrison, who encouraged and advised the students throughout the year.
“The validation that came with having an expert professional such as Dr. Harrison tell us that we might be onto something with the ORTube gave us confidence that our work was not just another simulated and contained assignment, but something that could actually have an impact outside the WT bubble,” acknowledges Jacob.
To design and manufacture the device, the duo utilized Fusion 360, a 3D-modeling software program. Three major areas drove development, says Jack: compartment design (“…it needed to fit into the bottle easily without much effort, avoid excess spillage, and be simple to change to accommodate future research…”); loading functionality (i.e., “… a funnel that unfolded or screwed onto the tube, or simply fit onto the openings…”); and linguistic diversification (the ORTube is currently printed in English, Arabic, Chinese, Swahili, French, and Spanish; languages chosen, says Jacob, “because they are widely spoken around the world and because we wanted to see the 3D printer's ability to print in a wide variety of different characters and alphabets”).
It took four different types of plastics and multiple iterations to reach success, Jack recalls. “As Mr. Marx says, ‘fail hard, and fail up.’ Problem-solving is actually a lot of fun when you don’t take problems as failures, but as lessons for the future. It took us nine different models to achieve our current tube.” That ninth model, made of anti-bacterial plastic, is “…the only tool we found that could be used to both teach and implement the creation of oral rehydration solutions without relying upon large packets of information or complex instructions.”
Another plus: ORTube’s cost.
“The tube is incredibly inexpensive to make – we calculated that 3D printing it cost roughly $0.72, already below the cost of some competing products – but the goal has always been non-profit, because the people who need this most are those who can’t easily pay for it,” explains Jack, bound for Brown University in the fall. “One of the great things about 3D printing is that we could even potentially avoid long-term shipping costs if hospitals are able to provide themselves with simple printers.”As a result of their work on the ORTube, both Jack and Jacob gained invaluable knowledge, multi-dimensional, real-world experience, and the opportunity to apply both—all before graduating high school. Says Jacob, who will work as a research trainee in the lab of UPMC’s Dr. Flordeliza Villanueva before heading to the University of Pennsylvania as a biology major this fall, “This project integrated a wide variety of disciplines, ranging from the biological mechanisms and chemical properties that we spent years of AP sciences studying, to societal concepts such as literacy and access to resources that would influence how the ORTube would fit into communities where it would be needed.”