Thermo-Stasis: A Battery-Powered, Temperature-Regulating Enclosure Device; A Utilitarian Ethics Analysis of the Duke Cancer Scandal

Tran, Margaret, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Powell, Harry, EN-Elec & Comp Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Laugelli, Benjamin, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

My technical work and my STS research are related in their goal of advancing human health and well-being. My technical work involves the creation of a device that can be used to promote good health, focusing on the design and potential applications of this tangible device. My STS research explores the morality behind a health-related research study that was found to be invalid, with the purpose of providing an ethical understanding of the case to prevent similar egregious situations from occurring in the field of medical research. While the two projects differ in their methods of promoting health and well-being, they are related in their purpose to do so.

The device proposed and discussed in my Technical Report is a temperature-regulating enclosure device that has applications in the health field to promote well-being. The battery-powered device is capable of both cooling and heating its internal compartment to create a self-regulating environment based on a user’s desired set temperature. Similar devices that perform the same functionality, such as a refrigerator or heat lamp, are dependent on access to reliable and constant electrical power. However, the proposed device is powered by a rechargeable battery, which increases its accessibility and opens it up to other potential applications due to its portability. One potential application of the device includes transportation or short-term storage of food at safe temperatures, such as during a road trip or while camping. Another application would be for the transportation or storage of medicines or vaccines that must be kept at a specific temperature. Thus, the proposed device can be used to promote good health and well-being through these applications.

In my STS Research Paper, I argue that the actions of lead researcher, Anil Potti, in the Duke cancer scandal were immoral due to the consequences that resulted from his violation of the principles of utilitarianism. The goal of my research is to provide an ethical understanding of the case to prevent similar misconduct in medical research from occurring. My paper explores the facts and current scholarly discourse of the case and provides an analysis of Potti’s actions through the ethical framework of utilitarianism. It concludes that such deliberate actions to manipulate data and falsify findings during medical research when lives are on the line are immoral. Thus, my research paper aims to promote health and well-being by encouraging ethical advancements in medical research.

Working on both projects simultaneously rather than separately and in isolation was valuable because it allowed me to gain an appreciation for how two different methods (applied research and pure research) can accomplish the same goal, as well as experience how they can influence each other. Through the applied research of my technical project, I was challenged to not only identify and develop a solution to address a current problem, but also to consider the ethical implications of it, which influenced its design. The pure research of my STS research paper provided a guide for thinking about how to improve upon the design of my device so that it would benefit the greatest number of people. My technical project influenced the direction and topic of research for my STS paper. As I had been thinking about the potential application of my technical device to transport and store medicine and vaccines, I was inspired to explore an ethical case study in the field of medicine. In conclusion, working on both my technical project and my STS research paper in tandem allowed me to think more deeply about the complementing side for each one and allowed it to influence the design and analysis I produced, improving the overall quality of both projects.

BS (Bachelor of Science)

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering
Technical Advisor: Harry Powell
STS Advisor: Benjamin Laugelli
Technical Team Members: Diana Aleksieva, Eric Choi, Thu Nguyen, Victor Xia

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