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Prototype may lighten the load for clinicians in radiological procedures

Awalt Scholar helps design the FlexRay device
Posted October 23, 2017

Awalt Scholar Emily Hadley works with her FlexRay design partner, Beth Mark.


The FlexRay device is made of carbon fiber and Kevlar. The FlexRay device is made of carbon fiber and Kevlar.

Surgeons carry a lot of weight on their shoulders, and some more than others.

Interventional radiologists and orthopedic surgeons, along with other staff who use radiological technology during medical procedures, have to wear lead vests that can weigh as much as 30 pounds. And because many surgeries take multiple hours to perform, this practice can result in lower back pain and injury.

Emily Hadley, Engr '17 – who was awarded the Robert Francis Awalt Mechanical Engineering Scholarship – is a member of the design team at the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering that set out to reduce this load.

This team that now comprises Hadley and Beth Mark, Engr '17, developed the FlexRay, a lightweight exoskeleton made of Kevlar and carbon fiber.

Designed to be worn under the lead vest, the FlexRay support device secures at the waist and transfers the weight of the vest from the shoulders to the hips, alleviating spinal compression, Hadley explains. The next steps are to keep improving the prototype and then sell the intellectual property rights so that it can be patented, she says.

Currently a student in the Master of Science in Engineering Management program, Hadley adds, "I am so grateful for the support I've received in my undergraduate education through the Robert Francis Awalt Mechanical Engineering Scholarship and the support I've received from his family in my graduate education."

The first to attend college in her family, Hadley says this "amazing" financial support made attaining an education of Hopkins' caliber possible. She adds that her parents also influenced her decision to pursue mechanical engineering.

"My father was a machinist; so, I always saw him building things. My mom has multiple sclerosis. So, growing up, I always remember her being in a wheelchair, and because of that, I always wanted to make an impact in the medical field and through medical devices," she says.

Hadley, who also works as a teacher's assistant, says she plans to pay the Awalts' generosity forward by giving back to Johns Hopkins when she is able and by creating devices that help people.

To learn more about supporting scholarships at the Whiting School of Engineering, please contact Megan Howie, associate dean for external relations.