Biomedical graduate thrilled to use degree to make a difference in people’s lives
Geetika Maddirala was finishing high school and deciding what to do next. She knew she wanted to study engineering, but just wasn’t sure which university or college would offer the career path she desired.
From her hometown in Colorado, in the United States, Geetika spent months researching universities around the world, in the US, Singapore, Hong Kong, before eventually settling on the unfamiliar city of Wollongong.
“When I was growing up, my Dad travelled a lot for work, and I always thought that was so cool,” Geetika said. “I wanted to travel but I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. I had never been to Australia before.”
Geetika had loved coding and science at high school, but it wasn’t until she discovered the Bachelor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Wollongong (UOW), at the time a new degree that was about to begin, that Geetika realised what she wanted to do.
She was planning on spending her first-year at UOW before heading back home to the US, but somewhere along the way, she decided to stay. Four years later, she is celebrating her graduation from UOW, as part of the first intake to complete the Bachelor of Biomedical Engineering.
“I loved that the degree was orientated towards engineering, rather than pure science,” Geetika said. “I had no idea where Wollongong was. It was so different to what I expected. I remember being surprised when it rained heavily because I thought it was always sunny in Australia.”
Being part of the first cohort of students to go through the degree has been an inspiring and rewarding experience for Geetika. She came to Wollongong without knowing a soul, but quickly made like-minded friends among the small cohort, in large part by founding the UOW Biomedical Engineering Student Society, known as B-Med.
“In my first year, I emailed my professor and said ‘what do you think about starting a club?’. Our cohort was scattered, and we didn’t know each other. But I started the society with the aim of getting people excited about the field of biomedical engineering and as a way of meeting others.
“Now, we have around 100 members in the club. We have all become great friends, we hold workshops, attend conferences and work on side projects too.”
For Geetika, founding the society was also driven by a desire to use the biomedical engineering degree to make an impact in the community.
To that end, B-Med Society has partnered with e-Nable, a non-profit, volunteer-run organisation that creates upper body prosthetic limbs to those with limited access to medical services.
In 2019, the society provided a 3D-printed prosthetic hand for an 8-year-old boy from Dapto, Rocco. The hand was bright red, a nod to Rocco’s favourite NRL team, the St George Illawarra Dragons.
It was an incredible experience for Geetika and the team, and the partnership with e-Nable continues to this day. Geetika is thrilled that the society born out of her degree is able to make a tangible difference in the lives of others. It is what drew her to the study of biomedical engineering in the first place.
One of the other highlights of her time at UOW was having the opportunity to work with her supervisors, Dr Vitor Sencadas and Professor Gursel Alici on her Honours thesis.
Geetika’s research focused on developing an electronic skin that can monitor blood pressure, with the aim of eventually replacing the traditional cuff. She is aspiring to continue her research.
“It is in the prototype phase. It is an electronic skin made of a tiny sensor placed on your wrist which is very flexible and thin. It takes away that giant cuff that is used to measure blood pressure now and can even measure your pulse,” Geetika said.
Geetika is hoping to build upon her sensor research with a Masters degree. She has applied to universities around the world, yet again, and is excited to see where she will end up. But firstly, she would like to see her family.
After coming to Wollongong for that initial year, she has not reunited with her family, and her ability to travel has been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But overall, Geetika has been thrilled to have been part of the first intake of Biomedical Engineering students.
“With this degree, we had a lot of freedom. It really defined our cohort. We were able to try our hand at different things, take advantage of every opportunity, and act as mentors for the students that came after us. The B-Med Society has been passed on to the next cohort of students and I am excited to see what they do with it.
“As long as there are humans on earth, we will need medical advancements. There is so much scope for opportunity in biomedical engineering.”