Power Play: How Wireless Energy Shaped My Engineering Future

May 4, 2016 - Aaron Bartnik, Electrical Engineer

Last month I presented a technical paper that I co-authored titled “Transcutaneous Energy Transfer and Inductive Communications for Ventricular-Assist Device Systems” to a room of industry professionals at the University of Minnesota’s Design of Medical Devices (DMD) Conference.  Currently a student studying electrical engineering at the University of Minnesota, I will soon join Minnetronix full-time. I could not have imagined these possibilities just three years ago when words like ‘transcutaneous’ or ‘ventricular-assist device’ would have required assistance from the internet. Let me explain.

In the summer of 2014 I was fortunate to be accepted into the Minnetronix internship program. This was a big deal for me – I had two previous internship experiences, but was eager to join the medical device industry. Minnetronix has a good reputation, and I knew the internship could direct me into a successful career path. Nevertheless, I was also nervous and concerned if I had the technical aptitude for the job. However, upon starting work at Minnetronix, I quickly found the atmosphere to be professional yet relaxed. My coworkers were kind and worked in effective teams. Additionally, I was paired with incredible mentors and placed in a learning environment full of opportunities.

During that first summer, I was introduced to a wireless energy transmission system capable of delivering power to a ventricular assist device (VAD). In short, a VAD is a mechanical pump used to support an unhealthy heart by assisting in pumping blood to the body. These devices are traditionally powered by a direct power cord that is inserted percutaneously (through a puncture in the skin).  High infection rates at the puncture site have prompted experiments using a wireless, or transcutaneous, approach. The project presented a sense of purpose and a need for innovation. I was thrilled that I was helping to develop technology that could significantly impact treatment options and quality of life. My days were spent testing and documenting the behavior of the system while further studying the technology in my free time. I aided in the optimization of analog electronics and addition of minor software functionality. The work provided me with a justification for the schooling I had recently completed while also demonstrating the need for future coursework.

In the summer of 2015, I was again offered an internship at Minnetronix.  I spent the majority of my time working on the VAD power technology and felt I truly added significant value to the outcome of the project. In addition to the engineering work, I was able to travel and get a glimpse into project management – both rare experiences for a traditional internship. With valuable help from Minnetronix Systems Engineering Fellow Lori Lucke, I was the lead-author of a scientific paper discussing a communication technique over the wireless power transfer system. The paper was accepted to the DMD Conference, and I was asked to present my findings at the Advances in Cardiovascular Medical Devices session. Despite the fact that public speaking is terrifying, my presentation was well-received and I appreciated the opportunity to improve my communication skills.

Today, I am a soon-to-be full-time engineer, ready to enter the post-college space known as the ‘real world.’ I am grateful to Minnetronix for helping to prepare me with the skills I need to succeed, though I am still a tad nervous to start a full-time positon. I recognize that my diploma will only be a stepping stone on a career path that requires constant education. I have confidence knowing that Minnetronix will provide a platform for young engineers like me to receive a continual stream of experience required for personal and professional success.