The Karabots Junior Fellows at National Biomechanics Day 2018

A Drexel graduate student attaches a motion sensor to a student's arm during National Biomechanics Day 2018

National Biomechanics Day is a global initiative that aims to introduce high school students and teachers to the field of biomechanics. Celebrated on April 11, organizations all over the world take part in hands-on activities to demonstrate the concepts of biomechanics and its diverse applications. During this year’s program, the fifth cohort of the Karabots Junior Fellows Program traveled to the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences at Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions to learn the ways scientists are using biomechanics to assist in physical therapy and recovery.

Breaking into small groups, the students met with Drexel graduate students, who oversaw interactive activities using mechanical sensors and detection equipment to map the way human bodies move, valuable information when monitoring a patient’s recovery and identifying potential mobility issues. At one station, students made use of MOCAP equipment to map out leg movement. Short for “motion capture,” mocap involves using a system of sensors to digitally record a person’s movement; popularized in video game design, mocap has myriad practical applications, including in the field of physical therapy. At another station, the students donned special sensors on their arms to record and monitor arm movement while performing simple tasks, such as lifting small weights and push-ups. The final station sought to transform physical therapy into an interactive game (game-based learning is no stranger to the Karabots Junior Fellows Program). Graduate students utilized a Microsoft Xbox Kinect, a motion-capture sensor designed for specialized video games (although it also has been used for scientific and medical applications) to map a players physical movements in order to play the arcade classic Pac-Man.

A student in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program jumps as he plays Pac-Man using a motion-detecting sensor at National Biomechanics Day

By jumping, flexing, and moving around, our students learned the different exciting ways biomechanics can be used to help patients recover from trauma and strengthen their mobility. We are thankful to Clare Milner, PhD, FACSM, Associate Professor, Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences, Drexel University, and the rest of her time for an exciting event.

The Karabots Junior Fellows Identify the Building Blocks of Cancer

Students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program take part in an activity about cancer biology by assembling walls made of Legos

Cancer is caused by miscommunications in cells brought upon by mutations in a patient’s DNA. Recently students in the fifth cohort of the Karabots Junior Fellows Program explored this concept using candy and Lego blocks.

A few weeks ago, the students met with Brad Davidson, a professor of developmental biology at Swarthmore College. Davidson, along with a student intern and members of the Center for Education, will be working with the Karabots students to design a Mütter Museum exhibit on cancer biology. In order to provide a basic insight into how cancer behaves, Davidson devised an interactive activity. Longtime followers of the blog will recall interactive and game-based activities are not unusual here at the Center for Education. Past lessons have taught the scientific method through a room escape, students designed games to teach the public about forensics, and we have done many, many quiz games. However, we’ve never integrated taste into our lessons, until now.

Dr. Davidson instructed the students to break into pairs. One student handled different flavors of candy and the other had a handful of Legos. Each candy corresponded with a different type of block. The pair had to attempt to build a wall out of blocks, using only taste to communicate. The student with the snacks fed specific candies to the student with the blocks; this was to illustrate how cell genes send signals to produce certain kinds of cells. Once they completed this activity, Davidson prepared new instructions to illustrate the way cancer interrupts this communication. The second phase of this activity had the student with the candy send conflicting messages, resulting in irregular or misshapen block walls in fashion similar to the way miscommunications between cells whose DNA is altered by cancer create cancer cells.

Students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program take part in an activity about cancer biology by assembling walls made of Legos

Overall, Davidson’s innovative activity successfully conveyed the message and gave our students a useful framework for when they begin to develop their exhibit.


The Karabots Junior Fellows Test a Game About How HIV Spreads

A student in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program plays CD4 Hunter, a mobile game about how HIV infects a healthy cell, on an iPad

Regular readers will know we frequently utilize games and game-based learning to create unique and memorable learning experiences for our students. Last year, our fourth cohort of the Karabots Junior Fellows Program playtested The Pox Hunter, a game about convincing Philadelphians in the early 18th century the importance of vaccines. They also designed their own forensic science themed board and card games, learned about the spread of disease by playing Pandemic 2, honed their powers of observation by taking part in a room escape, and tested their mental might with a series of thematic review games. Our fifth and most recent cohort has continued the legacy set forth by their predecessors, recently assisting Drexel University researchers playtest a game about how HIV infects health cells.

CD4 Hunter is a microbiology-themed mobile game currently under development by the Center for Business and Program Development of Drexel University’s Institute for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Diseases and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. It cast the player in the role of an HIV virus. The player’s goal is to infect healthy cells in order to spread create more virus cells while resisting antibiotics. IMMID developed the game to instruct the public by means of game-based learning on how HIV spreads in the body.

Under the guidance of Mary Ann Comunale, EDD, MS, who helps oversee the project, students started with a brief questionnaire to gauge their knowledge of HIV transmission and serve as a means of measuring what they learned by playing the game. Then they paired up with iPads or on their phones and played CD4 Hunter. As they played, they wrote down their thoughts on every aspect of the game, including visuals, sound, controls, how effected it conveyed its message, and (of course) fun. Students competed for high scores, with the top scorers earning a Dunkin Donuts gift card for their efforts. Dr. Comunale followed their play session with another questionnaire to gauge how much they learned about the subject while playing the game. Everyone gave useful feedback and many of them downloaded the game on their phones to play later. Afterwards, the Fellows met with a panel of three graduate students specializing in epidemiology, virology, and vaccines, who shared insights into their research and life in graduate school.

Two students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program play CD4 Hunter, a mobile game about how HIV infects a healthy cell, on an iPad

If you’d like to try CD4 Hunter for yourself, it is currently available for free on Apple iTunes and Google Play.

The Karabots Junior Fellows Race Around the Umlaut

Students in the KArabots Junior Fellows Program stand on a stage in Mitchell Hall at the College of physicians of Philadlephia. They receive small trophies for competing in an educational game show.

Regular readers to our blog will know that in the past we have utilized game-based learning into our youth programs. Students have learned about crime scene investigation by exploring virtual crime scenes; they studied vaccines by testing a game about historic vaccinations; and even designed forensics-themed games of their own. Interactive game shows have become a regular CEPI staple, challenging our students to test their memories over topics in healthcare, STEM, and CEPI programming. Our games-based approach has also extended to events such as Pennsylvania Teen Health Week 2017 and the Philadelphia Science Festival.

Youth Program Coordinator Kevin Impellizer (dressed in a lab coat and goggles) gestures to a projection screen, on which a Jeopardy-style game board is projected. The game took place at the "Friday the 13th @ the Mütter" event at the College of Physicians of Philadlephia

Recently, we carried the game show format even further, converting the College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s Mitchell Hall into a massive board game. Titled Race Around the Umlaut, students from the Karabots Junior Fellows Program broke into small small teams of contestants to compete in a variety of challenges. Some of these challenges reviewed information they had learned in lessons from throughout the semester while others tested their general knowledge. Among the ways they put their mental might to the test: they reviewed news headlines in an effort to pick out real from “fake news”; they attempted to match SAT words with their definitions; they tried to answer SAT/ACT math problems in a tense race against the clock; and they even competed in a fast-past game of Operation. Teams competed for glory and fabulous prizes and demonstrated the power of games to convert class into an exciting, competitive atmosphere.

A student in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program leans over a game of Operation while another student looks on. Part of a game show activity.

CEPI Curiosities: Captain Novolin

CEPI Curiosities: Tales from Medical History's Strange Side

Hello again, historio-medico aficionados. As always, this is Kevin, and I’m here with another installment of CEPI Curiosities.

For all you wonderful people who regularly follow our blogological exploits, you’ll notice we have a heavy focus on game-based learning in our Karabots Junior Fellows program. We strongly believe in the power of games and interactive learning to create exciting and engaging classroom experiences. With the popularity of games in modern culture, it should come as no surprise that we’re not the only ones out there trying to use games to teach about health and medicine.

But, I hear you ask, dear reader, “So, what? This is CEPI Curiosities; what’s so curious about health games?” Well I’m here to tell you about one of the earliest, and in some ways the most unusual, health-themed games I have ever encountered. I’m here to introduce you to Captain Novolin, a game designed to teach children about diabetes.

Screen shot of the title screen for Captain Novolin

Released in 1992 for the Super Nintendo, Captain Novolin was developed by Sculptured Software and produced by Raya Systems. Sculptured Software was an active player in the American games industry, mostly involved in developing home adaptations of arcade games, notably the Mortal Kombat series, as well as licensed games for recognizable brands such as The Simpsons, Star Wars, popular board games, and World Wrestling Entertainment. Publisher Raya, meanwhile, carved a small niche in the medical infogame market at the time with titles addressing cigarette smoking (Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon), asthma (Bronkie the Bronkiosaurus), and AIDS (the unreleased AIDS Avenger).

Captain Novalin’s story goes like this: Aliens led by the nefarious Blubberman have invaded Earth disguised as giant walking snacks and have kidnapped the mayor of Pineville. The unfortunate mayor suffers from Type 1 diabetes and only has a limited amount of medication. It is up to Captain Novolin to rescue the mayor and bring him his insulin before it’s too late! The adventure hits Captain Novolin on a personal level because as it so happens the good captain also has diabetes (the name Novolin comes from a brand of insulin). As a result, it is the player’s job to maintain the blue-clad crusader’s blood sugar levels, collecting healthy foods and avoiding sweets on his quest to rescue the pilfered politician.

Captain Novolin, star of the diabetes-themed game of the same name, avoids sugary cereal by jumping over it.

The game takes a literal-minded approach to the subject matter: Captain Novolin has to literally avoid unhealthy foods by jumping over or walking past the gaggle of gargantuan, ice cream cones, donuts, soda bottles and the like. If he comes in contact with one of the sentient sugary snacks [I promise that’s the last alliterative line in this article], he becomes dizzy; too much contact and he passes out, forcing the player to try again. Interspersed between the gameplay sections are tips on proper insulin usage and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. The game also periodically quizzes the player on information related to diabetes.

Screenshot from Captain Novolin quizzing the player on the importance of exercise for patients with diabetes

Captain Novolin is praiseworthy for staying on message, something that cannot necessarily be said for some of Raya’s other health games. For example, Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon, another Sculptured Software creation, has the player manage smoking by shrinking down and entering the body (a la Fantastic Voyage) to clear out tar with a laser. That being said, most video game enthusiasts have a low opinion of the Captain Novolin for its poor controls and unconventional premise.

Two images from Captain Novolin that address maintainig blood sugar levels

If you are interested in some more contemporary examples, of health-themed games you yourself can play without tracking down a Super Nintendo and a copy of Captain Novolin (a game that runs roughly $30-200 on eBay), there are some impressive games that spread awareness about important subjects, including depression (Depression Quest), cancer (Cancer Game; That Dragon, Cancer), hormone replacement therapy (Dys4ia), and vaccination (Illsville: Fight the Diseasehosted by our own History of Vaccines).

Until next time, catch you on the strange side!


Games of Forensics: The Karabots Fellows Show Off Their Prototypes

Students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program demonstrate a card-based roleplaying game on forensics to two visitors to the Mütter Museum

Throughout the school year, the Karabots Junior Fellows have learned about the basic principles of game design. They have met with game developers, used games to learn about STEM concepts, playtested medically-themed games in class, and done some game development work of their own. All the while, they have learned about a variety of fields related to forensic science.

Students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program demonstrate a game on forensics they designed to visitors to the Mütter Museum

Beginning in January, instructor Kevin Impellizeri broke them into five teams and issued a challenge: work together to develop a prototype for a game themed around forensic science. It could be any aspect of the field and they could develop a game in any style they wished (such as roleplaying-based, board-based, or card-based). Throughout the semester, they devoted periods in class to work out a concept, develop a prototype and put it to the test, making alterations as they saw fit. This past Saturday they finally unveiled their finished products.

A student in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program demonstrates a board game on forensics to two visitors to the Mütter Museum

The best test of a game’s success is seeing how it plays; therefore, we opened the Koop classroom and let visitors to the Mütter Museum come in and try them out. Visitors met with each team of Fellows, who explained the rules and helped them play through their games. Several of the Fellows even created and carried signs in the Museum lobby to entice visitors to play their games!

Several of the Karabots Junior Fellows entice visitors to the Müttre Museum to try their games, holding a sign saying "Try Mütter's New Games"

The Karabots Junior Fellows Test The Pox Hunter

Much of the curriculum of the current cohort of the Karabots Junior Fellows Program has revolved around games, from using games to teach our fellows about STEM concepts such as the spread of disease, crime scene investigation, and the Scientific Method to our Fellows designing their own forensic science-themed games. Recently, our Fellows got the chance to flex their game development muscles by acting as play testers for a computer game about vaccines.

The Karabots Junior Fellows test The Pox Hunter, a game about vaccination

The Fellows met with John Theibault who is part of a development team designing a game centered around public health and vaccination. The Pox Hunter puts players in the role of a physician in early 1800s Philadelphia whose goal is to convince people in the city to receive smallpox vaccinations in order to curtail a potentially deadly outbreak. The player pleads their case using different conversation tactics, such as empathy, reason, and intimidation, to convince a variety of characters representing different racial and socioeconomic groups throughout the city. Working individually or in pairs, the Fellows played through the game and offered their feedback. Drawing upon their experience developing and playtesting their own game prototypes, the Fellows shared what they felt were the game’s strengths and weaknesses and offered recommendations for what they would like to see in the final completed version.

The Karabots Junior Fellows navigate The Pox Hunter, a vaccination theme game currently in development

While The Pox Hunter is still in development, if you are interested in using games to learn more about vaccines, feel free to check out Illsville: Fight the Disease, an interactive activity that explores the evolution of vaccination developed by The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.