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Science

Engineering students created a life-size 'Operation' game—with a fun twist on the fail buzzer

The game trades in tweezers for tongs and the anxiety-producing buzzer for an audio meme.

engineering, operation, medicine, anatomy

Students at Washington State University created a life-size Operation game.

Anyone who has ever played the game Operation likely feels a teensy bit of anxiety just thinking about it. The experience of painstakingly trying to extract the Charlie Horse with those tiny, wired tweezers with a steady hand, only to accidentally touch the metal side and get the lightning-like jolt of the buzzer is hard to shake. That's the stuff of core memories right there.

But what if you had a humongous game board the size of a real human, with life-size bones and organs to extract? What if instead of tweezers, you had large tongs as tools to perform your operation? What if instead of Pavlovian-style fail buzzers, the game produced a much less traumatic womp womp womp sound when you mess up?


That's exactly what students in Washington State University’s chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) spent the past two years designing and producing—a life-size Operation game that's not only fun to play, but can help kids learn about the human body.

Students took on the project after Pullman Regional Hospital’s Center for Learning and Innovation approached WSU engineering professor Roland Chen about the idea. Chen took the concept to his senior-level design class and they created an initial plan, which was then passed on to the engineering club.

operation game; bones

3D cut outs of bones

Courtesy of Washington State University

WSU senior Joel Villanueva, who served as a team leader on the project, tells Upworthy that approximately 15 students were involved in the game's creation over the two years it took to complete it. The project was quite complex as it involved translating the computer-aided design to a real table, creating multiple prototypes, figuring out the right level of challenge and making sure it was safe for kids to use.

In terms of gameplay, Villanueva says it's very similar to the original board game, but obviously much larger and with a few key differences. "We have tongs that aren't connected to wires, which was a safety concern, so we found a way to increase that safety factor," he says. "And it also has sound. So when it's triggered, a red light is emitted and an error sound is also emitted."

operation game, human body

The life-size version of Operation uses tongs instead of tweezers.

Courtesy of Washington State University

Villanueva says they didn't want the fail signal to be too alarming, which makes sense since the game was made for kids at the local science center. So instead of the buzzing of the original game, touching the sides of the organ or bone opening results in a sad trombone sound—womp womp womp wommmp.

The game is officially referred to as the Surgery Skill Lab and is now a part of the EveryBODY exhibit at the Palouse Discovery Science Center (PDSC) in Pullman, Washington. It's ultimately a learning tool, and Villanueva says they put the bones and organs in their appropriate locations in the body to help kids learn about human anatomy.

"We worked with the BMES [Biomedical Engineering Society] student section who created some fact sheets about the project," adds Villanueva. "For example, 'The heart pumps this much blood at a given time'—small fun facts like that."

The bones were 3D printed, then coated with silicone (so the tongs can grip them), and the soft organs were molded out of silicone using 3D-printed molds.

operation game, engineering, washington state university

Pictured left to right at the Palouse Discovery Science Center: Kevin Dalbosco Dal Forno, Silas Peters, Roland Chen, Connor Chase, Ryan Cole, Becky Highfill, and Joel Villanueva

Courtesy of Joel Villanueva

The game was unveiled at a Family Night event at the PDSC on January 19, so Villanueva and his team got to see how it was received.

"It was an eye-catcher," says Villanueva. "There were many kids playing with it and it seemed like they were having lots of fun with it."

Jess Jones, who is part of the education team at PDSC, tells Upworthy that there was also a real doctor at the exhibit during the opening to talk with kids about medicine. She says the game has been a hit with kids so far.

"They're loving it," she says. "The organs are 3D printed so they feel kind of realistic. The kids are loving the texture."

brain, operation game

The life-size 3D-printed brain kids can remove in the Surgery Skill Lab.

Courtesy of Washington State University

The project is a win-win for both the university students and the local community. The students got to put their engineering skills into practice using various software and technologies and also gained valuable life skills such as time management, documentation, leadership and more. And the community gained a fun and educational exhibit both kids and nostalgic adults can enjoy.

Three cheers for innovation and collaboration that helps us all learn. (And good riddance, stress-inducing buzzer.)

True

Do you ever feel like you could be doing more when it comes to making a positive impact on your community? The messaging around giving back is louder than ever this time of year, and for good reason; It is the season of giving, after all.

If you’ve ever wondered who is responsible for bringing many of the giving-back initiatives to life, it’s probably not who you’d expect. The masterminds behind these types of campaigns are project managers.

Using their talents and skills, often proven by earning certifications from the Project Management Institute (PMI), project managers are driving real change and increasing the success rate on projects that truly improve our world.

To celebrate the work that project managers are doing behind the scenes to make a difference, we spoke with two people doing more than their part to make an impact.

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Courtesy of Joshua Williard

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Through his work, Josh drives restoration efforts to completion so contaminated land can again be used beneficially, and so future generations will not be at risk of exposure to harmful chemicals.

“I’ve been inspired by the natural world from a young age and always loved being outside. As I gained an understanding about Earth's trajectory, I realized that I wanted to be part of trying to save it and keep it for future generations.

“I learned the importance of using different management styles to address various project challenges. I saw the value in building meaningful relationships with key community members. I came to see that effective project management can make a real difference in getting things done and having on-the-ground impact,” Williard says.

In addition, Monica Chan’s career in project management has enabled her to work at the forefront of conservation efforts with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF-US). She most recently has been managing a climate change project, working with a diverse team including scientists, policy experts, data analysts, biologists, communicators, and more. The goal is to leverage grants to protect and restore mangroves, forests, and ecosystems, and drive demand in seaweed farming – all to harness nature's power to address the climate crisis.

Courtesy of Monica Chan

“As the project management lead for WWF-US, I am collaborating across the organization to build a project management framework that adapts to our diverse projects. Given that WWF's overarching objectives center on conserving nature and addressing imminent threats to the diversity of life on Earth, the stakes are exceptionally high in how we approach projects,” says Chan.

“Throughout my journey, I've discovered a deep passion for project management's ability to unite people for shared goals, contributing meaningfully to environmental conservation,” she says.

With skills learned from on-the-job experience and resources from PMI, project managers are the central point of connection for social impact campaigns, driving them forward and solving problems along the way. They are integral to bringing these projects to life, and they find support from their peers in PMI’s community.

PMI has a global network of more than 300 chapters and serves as a community for project managers – at every stage of their career. Members can share knowledge, celebrate impact, and learn together through resources, events, and other programs such as PMI’s Hours for Impact program, which encourages PMI members to volunteer their time to projects directly supporting the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

“By tapping into PMI's extensive network and resources, I've expanded my project management knowledge and skills, gaining insights from seasoned professionals in diverse industries, including environmental management. Exposure to different perspectives has kept me informed about industry trends, best practices, and allowed me to tailor my approach to the unique challenges of the non-profit sector,” Chan says.

“Obtaining my PMP certification has been a game-changer, propelling not only my career growth, but also reshaping my approach to daily projects, both personally and professionally,” Chan says. Research from PMI shows that a career in project management means being part of an industry on the rise, as the global economy will need 25 million new project professionals by 2030 and the median salary for project practitioners in the U.S. is $120K.

PMI’s mission is to help professionals build project management skills through online courses, networking, and other learning opportunities, help them prove their proficiency in project management through certifications, and champion the work that project professionals, like Joshua and Monica, do around the world.

For those interested in pursuing a career in project management to help make a difference, PMI’s Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification could be the starting point to help get your foot in the door.

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