Unit Surgical Device Engineering

A line drawing shows a human man with arms and legs outstretched at two overlapping positions within a circle. Below the drawing are handwritten notes.
People have been studying the human body for centuries. "Study of Proportions" by Leonardo da Vinci.
Copyright © http://pantransit.reptiles.org/images/sorted/illo/misc/


This unit focuses on teaching students about the many aspects of biomedical engineering (BME). Students come to see that BME is a broad field that relies on concepts from many engineering disciplines. They also begin to understand some of the special considerations that must be made when dealing with the human body. Activities and class discussions encourage students to think as engineers to come up with their own solutions to some of medical challenges that have been solved throughout the history of BME. Class time includes brainstorming and presenting ideas to the class for discussion. Specific activities include examination of the material properties and functions of surgical instruments and prosthetics, a simulation of the training experience of a surgical resident, and an investigation of the properties of fluid flow in vascular tissue.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Engineers have impacted the healthcare industry through the invention of creative devices that prolong life and assist in saving lives. The two activities highlight particular aspects of biomedical engineering: creating replacement heart valves and designing medical and surgical instruments.

Unit Overview

The Medical Instrumentation lesson presents a description of the broad field of biomedical engineering, including the variety of biomedical devices and the issues that biomedical engineers take into consideration. This overview enables students to gain an understanding of the substantial underlying technology in the field of medicine. In the associated activity, Surgical Resident for a Day, students work in teams as surgical residents using surgical instruments to complete tasks that are inside of a box, hidden from direct view—a setup similar to laparoscopic surgery.

The Put Your Heart into Engineering lesson presents the human vascular system and how engineering problem solving can be applied to it. In the associated activity, No Valve in Vain, students act as biomedical engineers to design, build, test and redesign prototype one-way heart valves using plastic tubing, tape, plastic, foam and wire, testing them with water to represent blood moving through the heart.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

See individual lessons and activities for standards alignment.


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Unit Schedule

More Curriculum Like This

Middle School Lesson
Medical Instrumentation

Students learn about the sorts of devices designed by biomedical engineers and the many other engineering specialties that are required in their design of medical diagnostics, therapeutic aids, surgical devices and procedures, and replacement parts. They discuss the special considerations that must ...

High School Lesson
Abdominal Cavity and Laparoscopic Surgery

Students are introduced to the abdominopelvic cavity—a region of the body that is the focus of laparoscopic surgery—as well as the benefits and drawbacks of laparoscopic surgery.


After this unit, students should be able to:

  • Describe how laparoscopic surgery is better for patients than previous surgical methods.
  • Demonstrate an ability to manipulate objects using laparoscopic instruments, while seeing only the images through a webcam.
  • Test prototype valves by timing the flow in both directions and calculating their effectiveness compared to those designed by other students in the class.
  • Explain what heart valves do and how they work.


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2004 Duke University


Emily McDowell; Alice Hammer

Supporting Program

Techtronics Program, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University


This content was developed by the MUSIC (Math Understanding through Science Integrated with Curriculum) Program in the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University under National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. DGE 0338262. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: August 23, 2017

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