Eng. student wins national competition

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Pencilla Lang

Joyce Wang

Third-year mechanical materials and engineering student Pencilla Lang recently placed first in the communications category at the Canadian Engineering Competition in Saskatoon.

At the competition, Lang spoke on the use of technology in medicine, specifically in non-invasive surgery.

In normal surgery, the surgeon needs to cut open the breast bone, stop your heart and break open your ribs. It’s very invasive,” Lang said.

“But with non-evasive surgery, the surgeon just makes three small incisions and puts tools through, which are controlled by a robot. The surgeon controls the robot from a computer console.”

Lang’s presentation, entitled “Robots and Miraculous Cures,” plays off the title of Vincent Lam’s book Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, which recently won the Giller Prize.

“The book talked about good issues,” Lang said. “But not with the use of technology, so I wanted to introduce the idea.”

In the communications category, teams or individuals gave a 30-minute presentation describing a technology’s principles in a way the general public could understand.

“There’s a wide range of topics,” Lang said. “The second-place team from Ottawa spoke about wind power and generation.”

Lang qualified for the national competition by winning the Western competition and the Ontario competition.

In the communication category, seven teams faced a panel of three judges. Lang thought her presentation won because people could relate to it.

“It’s a different aspect of engineering,” she said. “People usually think of mechanical engineering like cars and trains, but this is a non-traditional field and has really developed over the past 10 to 20 years.

“I worked on my presentation for about a week, but I already had a lot of the background knowledge because I’ve been interested in this for a long time. After each competition, I revised my presentation with the feedback from the judges.”

Lang’s presentation contained three segments. The first explained what robotic surgery is and discussed its advantages and disadvantages. The second discussed its technological challenges from an engineering perspective. The third addressed its potential impact on health care and the barriers it faces.

“A lot of people are not comfortable with the idea of [robotic surgery],” Lang said. “They worry about the technology failing. We could have perfectly functioning technology, yet society might not accept it.”

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