Roche Partners with UArizona Engineering Program


Working together to solve real-world challenges facing companies.

March 8, 2021

In the early 1980s, while working at the University of Arizona (UArizona) as a pathologist, Dr. Thomas Grogan first imagined an instrument that would improve the way cancer is diagnosed globally. His work at the university ultimately led to the creation of what is now Roche Diagnostic Solutions (RDS) in Tucson, Arizona, a global leader in cancer diagnostics.  

That strong connection continues today with educational partnerships between RDS and the University of Arizona. Among them is the UArizona College of Engineering’s Craig M. Berge Design Day, which is the culmination of a year-long senior capstone project where seniors work in teams with professionals to solve engineering challenges.

Engineering students were trained on how to handle real-world scenarios and given tasks outside of their educational skill-sets, which is common in the professional world. Best Overall Design was among the prizes awarded to students involved in RDS projects this year.

Projects included capacitive volume sensing, authentication with facial recognition, personalized lab notifications, physical use interface for digital pathology, slide randomizing and an automated iButton placement device. 

Organizing and completing the six RDS Design Day projects was a group effort of more than 40 colleagues led by Ben Blehm, staff systems engineer. The teams were sponsored by Roche employees from hardware and systems development, tissue research and early development, operations and assay and reagent development. 

Additional support was provided by Legal as well as machine shop team members, who built parts for the teams. 

Roche-sponsored teams received the following awards during Design Day 2020:

  • Raytheon Missile Systems Award for Best Overall Design - $5,000
    Capacitive Volume Sensing 
  • Rincon Research Award for Best Presentation - $1,500
    Capacitive Volume Sensing
  • Technical Documentation Consultants of Arizona Award for Best Design Documentation - $1,000
    Slide Randomizer
  • Sharon ONeal Award for Best Cybersecurity Design - $1,000
    Personalized Lab Notifications

One unforeseen challenge the teams faced was completing their projects during the COVID-19 pandemic, with students and employees working from home.

“Most teams could not finish their prototypes or finish verification testing,” Ben said. “However, a couple of our teams did get a working prototype due to excellent planning.” 

Student Alana Gonzales, who recently received a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering from UArizona, was part of the RDS team to create a sensor to measure fluid reagent levels.

University of Arizona Senior Design Volume Sensor team

“The biggest obstacle that arose for us was that, towards the end of the year, it became very difficult and sometimes impossible to order new parts and receive them in time to finish our prototype because production was slowed all over the world,” she said. “Despite this and the challenges of not being able to physically work together, I think our team did a great job of keeping in touch and doing the best we could to make as much progress on the project as possible.”

Supporting STEM education through programs like Design Day encourages students to pursue careers in engineering, and can lead to future employment at Roche, Ben said.

RDS’s involvement in Design Day is just one example of Roche’s commitment to making a positive impact in the world that extends beyond healthcare. Aside from financial support, #RocheGivesBack places skilled employee volunteers in a variety of local organizations and schools in an effort to make a meaningful, long-lasting impact in their communities.

Find more details on the University of Arizona College of Engineering’s Craig M. Berge Design Day 2020 here.