PhilaU Graduate Students Team Up with Aalto University in Finland

The Philips Healthcare team at work in Finland develops an MRI 3-D calibration system.

At Philadelphia University, collaborating on high-profile projects is a way of life, and this past year graduate students in several programs spanned a distance of 4,188 miles to partner with Aalto University in Helsinki to achieve international solutions to some of the world’s modern challenges.

PhilaU graduate students in business and industrial design teamed up with Aalto students on a research project on the future of work and product development challenges to redesign an environmental meter and develop a calibration system to improve medical imaging.

“This collaboration with Aalto University gives students a rich cultural, personal and professional experience,” said D.R. Widder, Philadelphia University’s vice president for innovation and Steve Blank Innovation Term Chair. “Our colleagues at Aalto University share our philosophy that more diversity—whether intellectual, disciplinary or cultural—drives more innovation.”

The Future of Work

Following a semester of international research on the future of work, PhilaU and Aalto students identified six universal attributes required for success in future employees: emotional intelligence, storytelling, empathy, self-awareness, curiosity and critical thinking.

The PhilaU Strategic Design MBA students presented these findings to students, faculty and industry professionals June 5 at The Hub at Commerce Square in Philadelphia.

The project began in February, when the MBA students hosted a one-day charette at PhilaU with local city government employees to brainstorm what the typical workplace would look like in the future in technology, education and health care fields.

In March, 10 MBA students traveled to Finland to work in person with students at Aalto University’s Design Factory, participating in design-thinking exercises and rapid prototyping. While there, the students examined the nature of work through the experiences of various people, such as a woman, Oona, who recently reentered the workforce after raising her children.


The Philips Healthcare team presents at Aalto University’s Design Factory product development project gala.

“Working with people who have a completely different background and way of thinking forces you to reevaluate the way you think,” Strategic Design MBA student Erin Thibault said. “That’s when you get the most dynamic results.”

“We’re showcasing student thought leadership,” Natalie Nixon, Strategic Design MBA program director, said. “It’s been impressive to me to see the students really spearhead this project.”


Over the course of the 2013-14 academic year, iMBA student Luis Olivera and M.S. in Industrial Design students Lauren Georgian and Andrew Jordan worked with two Aalto engineering students to address a challenge by Vaisala Inc., a global leader in environmental and industrial measurement, to redesign their HM70 meter, a handheld device that measures carbon dioxide, humidity and temperature.

“We altered the shape, making it thinner, lighter and easier to hold with an ergonomic handle,” Georgian said. “Our updated design also has a significantly larger screen and a new, more intuitive user interface. These changes allow the device to stay competitive in the market.”

Redesigning an existing product meant the team had to pay special attention to details such as industry equipment standards and cost of materials.

“It was a great challenge for an industrial designer,” Jordan said. “I definitely learned a lot. This was the first time I had to use the metric system.”

From both sides of the Atlantic, the students coordinated, prepared and conducted meetings with Vaisala officials before presenting their final design May 15 at Aalto’s Design Factory product development project gala.

Philips Healthcare

Industrial design graduate students Matthew Flail, Marshall Linton and Robert Lutts collaborated with Aalto students to develop a 3-D calibration system, or phantom, to improve magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for industry sponsor Philips Healthcare.

“The majority of the current phantoms on the market only scan in two dimensions, x and y,” Linton said. “Our job was to create a phantom that could be scanned in three dimensions to give a more accurate and comprehensive visualization of the entire imaging area.”

The calibration system is used to ensure the accuracy of the magnetic field before a patient is scanned to prevent diagnostic inaccuracies.

The team used communication tools such as Google Hangouts, Flowdock, Google Drive, email and Facebook to collaborate throughout the year. During spring break in March, the three PhilaU students traveled to Aalto University to continue their collaborative product development in person.

“My trip to Finland is one I will never forget,” Linton said. “At Aalto, we were exposed to a new and exciting work style and collaboration process. I feel that the value of working on transdisciplinary projects is extremely valuable for every student, no matter their field of study.”

Kalevi Ekman, professor and captain of Aalto’s Design Factory, said both PhilaU collaborations were a success at the recent product design gala. “Never before have we received so much positive feedback about the presentations and exhibition,” Ekman said. “We are eagerly waiting for the next round of product development projects with PhilaU to start.”

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