Providing veterinary care to aquatic animals often presents the practitioner with unique challenges. Many biomedical devices and technologies routinely used in veterinary practice are derivatives of human medical practice. In spite of the rather formidable proficiencies of some individuals, humans are not generally considered an aquatic species. And in spite of the marked growth of involvement of veterinary practitioners in the health management of aquatic species, the specialty is still a minor sector of the profession. As a result there is a lack of specialized instrumentation or technologies specific to address some of the common clinical presentations in aquatic practice.
The Animal Health Department of the John G. Shedd Aquarium has established a program to target some of these unique opportunities for engineering solutions. The department is working closely with the Institute for Design Engineering and Applications of the Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at neighboring Northwestern University to match bright young engineering minds with novel and relevant real-life challenges that require an engineering solution. This program, although new, has been highly rewarding to both organizations.
As part of the IDEA 298/398, Multidisciplinary Design Projects I & II courses, students select projects submitted by partnering community organizations. Students focus on the problem presented and work though design, fabrication, test and evaluation for grades. The aquarium Animal Health Department is delighted to have a team of ambitious students focusing on a specific problem and the students are often thrilled to have project topics as novel as aquatic veterinary medicine challenges. To date the work product of the students' efforts have been most impressive and have included design and fabrication of a device for foreign body retrieval from the gastrointestinal tract of large aquatic animals and an integrated microprocessor controlled anesthesia delivery device and surgery platform for fishes. Classes may also select ongoing projects to continue specifically focusing on design enhancement. As a result more than one class contributes to a given project and improved versions of the devices are developed.