College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

MSc Graduate Designs Commercially Viable Version of Pulse Plethysmography Device

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Ms Cindy Mphara graduated with an MSc in Physics cum laude for her design of a fully tested, low cost but extremely accurate pulse plethysmography (PPMG) measurement device.

The instrument is used for measuring changes in volume within a human organ or whole body usually resulting from fluctuations in the amount of blood or air in them.

Mphara’s achievement was significant, especially considering her humble beginnings. From Ha-Ravele village in rural Limpopo, where access to basic services is practically non-existent and obtaining an education difficult, she always had a deep love of learning and dreamed of attending UKZN to study for a degree.

Circumstances prevented Mphara from registering at UKZN for her undergraduate studies but through sheer perseverance and hard work she won a Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) bursary to do a master’s degree at UKZN.

Supervised by Professor Naven Chetty her research project produced a low-cost pulse plethysmography measurement device.

The devices – found in most hospitals in major city centres and within the private healthcare system – are relatively expensive, however, and not easily available to the local community who use rural hospitals and clinics.  Mphara identified the need for low-cost medical devices to be made more readily available for the diagnosis of medical conditions across all health facilities, especially in rural hospital and clinics.

Mphara focused on designing and testing her low-cost PPMG device, which was subsequently found to be suitable for diagnostics at local health facilities while meeting the requirements for low-cost production. Commercial opportunities for the device are now being considered following large-scale testing among a diverse population group.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic Mphara’s research has become even more relevant, as a PPMG device is useful in determining coronavirus infections and can help health professionals with diagnosis and subsequent treatment plans.

Mphara plans to pursue a PhD and further her investigations under the continued supervision of Chetty, who is extremely proud of her achievement. ‘Cindy has shown that pure determination will help overcome all barriers to success,’ he said. ‘What is even more exciting about this, is the fact that Cindy is an inspiration to all female students and will help encourage them to take up studies in male-dominated fields such as physics and excel!’

Mphara attributes her great success in her master’s studies to her faith in her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who she says gave her the strength and devotion to push on even through the difficult times of her studies.  She thanked Chetty for his exceptional guidance and support throughout her project and his contribution to both her academic and personal development.

Mphara also paid tribute to her amazing family:  ‘Nobody has been more important to me than the members of my family in the pursuit of this research. I want to thank my parents, whose love and guidance in whatever I pursue inspire me. They have always encouraged me to work as hard as they have their entire lives.’

Words: Nicole Chidzawo

Photograph: Supplied