Columbia Design Challenge: Addressing the Opioid Epidemic

Columbia Engineering is pleased to announce the Columbia Design Challenge: Addressing the Opioid Epidemic. Addiction is devastating wide swaths of the population as it cuts across geography, age, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic status.

This complex problem involves issues that affect not only health, medicine, technology, policy, business, but also countless other facets of our society—and fields that are represented here at Columbia. The event will feature faculty experts from SEAS, Public Health, the Medical Center, among others.

We invite students from all schools at the university to participate in this exciting opportunity to address such a complex and pervasive problem. Teams could address production, prescription/ dispensing, policy and lobbying, and many other fundamental challenges, all of which would benefit from cross-disciplinary solutions

This Design Challenge aims to generate innovative interdisciplinary technology solutions and policies that could have an immediate impact on the epidemic of opioid addiction. Teams selected to continue will win continued support for design opportunities on and off campus in the spring.

Below are key dates. For more information about the design challenge, please contact SEAS Director of Outreach and Special Projects, Emily Ford,

Design Challenge Resources

Learn more about resources available to support student teams. 

Design Challenge Summary Template (.ppt)

Design Challenge Pitch Template (.pdf)

Past Design Challenges

2014: Confronting the Ebola Crisis

2016: Urban Water

Past Success Stories

In the 2016 Columbia Design Challenge, students traveled to Rio de Janeiro to look at ways sensing technology could ameliorate urban water issues. Out of that experience came Palmos, the brainchild of Greg Kollmer MS‘16, PhD candidate Aykut Aksit MS‘16, Karim Abdallah MS‘16, and Troy Hodges MS‘16. A winning entry to the 2016 challenge, Palmos began as proposal for monitoring hydrological risks such as landslides and flooding that has gone on to receive funding from Verizon and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, among others.

Read more about the project at

As CEO and co-founder of Kinnos Inc., Jason Kang ‘16 recently made Forbes’ 2016 30 Under 30 list in the field of healthcare. A New York-based startup that develops better means of infectious disease decontamination, Kinnos got its start at the 2014 Columbia Design Challenge tackling the Ebola crisis with a prototype for Highlight, a patent-pending additive that improves the visibility of disinfectant to help HazMat and biosafety workers ensure complete coverage of contaminated areas. The award-winning product has since been field-tested by healthcare workers in Liberia, Guinea, and Haiti, and is also used by the New York Fire Department.

Read more about the project at


Columbia Design Challenge: Addressing the Opioid Epidemic Agenda

Thursday October 26 - Day 1: Kickoff Event 
Davis Auditorium (link to video recording of session)

5:00 – 5:10 Welcome, Dean Boyce

5:10 – 5:30 Introduction to design challenge, Elizabeth Hillman
Overview of Opioid Crisis, discussion of potential areas of impact

5:30 – 5:40 Intro to Design Thinking, Katherine Reuther

5:40 – 5:50 Defining the Need, Aaron Kyle

5:50 – 6:00 Q&A

6:00 – 6:30 Introduction to areas of impact (8-10 minutes each)
Brief presentations on problems in respective fields    

6:00 – 6:10 MSPH: Katherine M. Keyes, Epidemiology

6:10 – 6:20 CUMC: Frances Levin, Psychiatry

6:20 – 6:30 MSPH: June Kim, Epidemiology

6:30 – 6:45 Summary and Next StepsElizabeth Hillman

6:45 – 7:00 Panel Discussion and Questions

7:00 – 9:00 Student and Faculty Networking and Team Formation
Pizza and refreshments provided outside Davis Auditorium

Friday October 27 - Day 2: Understanding the Problem
Davis Auditorium (link to video recording of session)

8:30 – 9:00am Networking and Bagels

9:00 – 10:00 Review of Kickoff Meeting and Design Thinking 
Elizabeth Hillman, Aaron Kyle, and Katherine Reuther

10:05 – 10:10 Official Welcome, Emily Ford and Ivy Schultz

10:10 – 10:15 Review of Design Challenge Goals, Elizabeth Hillman

10:15 – 11:45 Deep dive into major problems (8-10 min each)
Presentations on the current state of the opioid crisis and summary of specific challenges for which low-cost interdisciplinary technology solutions and policies could have an immediate impact.

Q&A will follow over lunch

10:15 – 10:25 SEAS: Sam Sia, Biomedical

10:25 – 10:35 CUMC: Adam Bisaga, Psychiatry

10:35 – 10:45 GSAS: Geraldine Downey, Psychology             

10:45 – 10:55 CUMC: Sean X. Luo, Psychiatry

10:55 – 11:05 SIPA: Wilmot G James, visiting professor, Pediatrics

11:05 – 11:15 CUMC: Jermaine Jones, Psychiatry

11:15 – 11:25 MSPH: Guohua Li, Anesthesiology and Epidemiology

11:25 – 11:35 Libraries: Ellie Ransom

11:35-12:00 Student team formation and networking, Davis Lobby (Use online team-finder and plan to meet during this time!)

12:00 – 1:00 Q&A and Lunch, Mudd 1024
All available stakeholders, including presenters, other faculty, clinicians, etc.

1:00 – 3:00 Student groups work in teams, Mudd 1024 (overflow rooms Mudd 833 and NWC 602)
Teaming sessions organized around specific challenge topics, resulting in preliminary design/policy/planning concepts

1:00 Optional event:  Fast Pitch Prep workshop, 544 Mudd
Ivy Schultz and Kaushik Tiwari, SEAS Alum, Thiel Fellow, CSL venture

3:00 Wrap up (Mudd 1024)
Student groups submit a 2-slide summary showing their Need Statement and Proposed Solution Space (slide 1) and requests for resources (page 2) - for example a faculty mentor / expert, lab access, or small funds

Submit slides to

3:00 Optional event: MakerSpace safety training, 1024 Mudd

Thursday November 2 - Week 2: Checking in, Refining Ideas
Mudd 524 (videotaped for later viewing)

6:00 – 6:15 Check-in with Prof. Elizabeth Hillman: Where are we now and where we are going

6:15 – 7:00 pm Stakeholder Panel and Q&A
Stakeholders present on their experience with the opioid crisis. Followed by an open question session.

Silvia Martins, Associate Professor of Epidemiology MPH
Susan Stellin, Journalist and student at Mailman School of Public Health
Graham MacIndoe Photographer and recovered drug user
Mollie Ewing, Prevention Specialist and student at Mailman School of Public Health 

7:00– 7:30 pm Pitchcraft Workshop with Prof. Katie Reuther
Pitchcraft workshop: Faculty and staff will lead exercises and activities to polish pitch presentations.

Thursday November 9 - Week 3: Pitch Presentations
NWC 1406

Panel members:

SEAS Biomedical Engineering: Elizabeth Hillman, Aaron Kyle, Katherine Reuther
Arthur Robin Williams, Psychiatry
Noemie Elhadad, DSI
Nasir Naqvi, Psychiatry
Dalibor Sames, Chemistry
Nicholas Tatonetti, Biomedical Informatics

11:00am – 2:00pm Pitches (2 min each)
Student teams present ideas to panel. Pitch sessions will be 2 minutes. A sign-up sheet and slide template will be shared in advance online.

Review (2-3 min each)
Panel of Columbia and external experts will provide feedback on early design/policy/planning concepts and select teams for continuing development and implementation.

Teams advancing to the next round will be announced by November 16th.

500 W. 120th St., Mudd 510, New York, NY 10027    212-854-2993