Northeastern University mechanical engineering student launched a blood drive in India and helped develop medical implants in Germany

Arunika Makam, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student, started a charitable blood drive in India that has reached 25,000 donors. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Her father, who worked in Bangalore for a medical devices company that specializes in blood, came up with the idea for her project. 

Her mother encouraged and guided her to make it real.

This was how Arunika Makam, while still adapting to her life in a new country, was able to develop a non-profit service, Give Blood India, which enabled people in India to donate blood while preserving their privacy. Makam, a teenager, would set up a table outside office buildings or at community events and ask people to enroll. 

“By the time I went away to Northeastern, there were 15,000 people signed up,” says Makam, who is approaching her fourth year at Northeastern’s College of Engineering. “And then I handed it off to my brother, and there’s like 25,000 people now.”

Makam, seen here performing an experiment at Northeastern’s College of Engineering, recently finished a co-op in Germany with Stryker, a medical devices company. Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

An affinity for blood runs through the family. They have since moved back to the U.S.—her parents and younger brother live in Colorado now—and in their absence, Makam is hoping a charitable organization in India will take control of her start-up.

“I don’t want to just stop it,” she says. “It’s like my baby.”

She returned in June from a co-op in Kiel, Germany, with the multi-national medical technology firm Stryker. Her work was focused on implants that hold fractured bones together while they are healing.

The development phase of the implants was especially intriguing. 

Stryker fabricates human bones from a database of computerized axial tomography, or CAT scans, which have been collected from around the world. Implants are affixed to the bone material and tested hydraulically beyond normal human capacities, says Makam, on the chance that patients subject the implants to unexpected stresses.

“While I’m young and don’t have financial responsibilities, I think that it would be cool to work at a med-device startup,” says Makam, who plans to graduate in 2021 with an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering as well as a master’s in mechanics and design. “That’s my tentative path, I would say.”

She remembers being “super mad” as a 12-year-old, born and raised in Massachusetts, when her parents decided to move the family back to their native India. She would visit at least a dozen countries over the ensuing decade, becoming proficient in Hindi, French, and German, in addition to her fluency in English and Telugu, which is her mother’s native language. And at The International School Bangalore, a highly-competitive school in her father’s hometown, Makam was introduced to a spirit of collaboration that has enabled her to thrive in co-ops and other ventures.

Where would Makam like to live next? She has come to believe that the work she does will be more important than where she does it.

“I feel like I could really live anywhere,” says Arunika Makam, who laughs while recalling her childish anger over leaving behind everything she knew—a move that has unlocked so many doors.

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