Swiss and Cameroonian students develop a novel infant incubator

In the framework of the GlobalNeonat project, Benjamin Rime, a Materials Science and Engineering student went to Cameroon for the last two months of his Masters project.

This project aims to develop a neonatal incubator that meets the needs and constraints of hospitals in developing countries. In this context, existing incubators do not function properly, thus limiting the chances of survival for premature babies. A reliable, robust device capable of maintaining a constant temperature despite frequent power cuts therefore needed to be developed. To address this issue, Benjamin developed a heat exchanger prototype based on phase change materials (PCM). He realized its production entirely at EPFL (in the Laboratory of Composites and Polymers, LTC), then brought the prototype to Cameroon to evaluate the possibility of local manufacture and the integration in an incubator designed at the CURES center (University Research Center on Energy for Health Care, of which EPFL is a partner in the Network of Excellence in Engineering Sciences of the French-speaking Community, the RESCIF). With the support of the CURES center team, Benjamin closely collaborated with two students from the ENSPY (École Nationale Supérieure Polytechnique de Yaoundé).

  • Francis Vivien Jiokeng, an ENSPY student of micro technology was responsible for establishing the temperature control system. It was necessary to manage the flow of hot air according to the temperature in the incubator by adjusting a heating element and a fan using a microcontroller.
  • Charlène Bernadette Lema, an ENSPY student of mechanical engineering was responsible for the design of the structure of the incubator comprising the apparatus, the mattress, and the casing containing the heat exchanger and the temperature control system.

At this time, the heat exchanger has been completed; and initial test results are encouraging.
The two Cameroonian students will finalize the complete prototype of the incubator in the coming months. This prototype will be a crucial step to demonstrate the feasibility of this new technology for incubators and pave the way towards the development of a vital device that doctors in countries of the South anxiously anticipate...