St. Peter's College Dunboyne, UCD
BSc Electronic Engineering, ME Biomedical Engineering
I've worked in my hometown and in Galway for a medical devices company, and I worked in Helsinki, Finland as a researcher.
Insight Centre for Data Analytics, UCD
Favourite thing to do in science: Writing computer code which solves maths problems
I'm an engineer, researcher and kayaker
I’m a Meath man studying for a PhD in UCD.
When I left school I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but engineering seemed like a good choice… I liked maths, technical drawing, and tinkering with things to see how they worked.
After a couple of years in college, I thought engineering might have been a mistake. That was until I took a module in neuroscience.
I know. Engineering and neuroscience are worlds apart, especially when one has never opened a biology book before in their entire life.
But I soon discovered that engineering is not too far removed from any subject.
Engineering applies to everything.
When I saw videos like this, and this, and this, then I knew I wanted to study biomedical engineering.
In particular, neural engineering – I wanted to solve problems of the brain.
Since then, I have designed my own brain computer interface (or BCI) and now I work with doctors to help people with Parkinson’s disease to improve their symptoms.
When I’m not working, I like to play Canoe Polo, watch loads of movies, and eat Indian food.
Biomedical Engineering PhD Student
Hey! My name’s Matt.
I’m an electronic engineering PhD student in UCD who loves all things biomedical.
In short, my research aims to help doctors to diagnose neurodegenerative diseases by recording electrical signals from human muscle.
Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease, occur when certain parts of the brain stop working and the brain can’t control the body’s movement properly.
When this happens, symptoms such as tremor (shaking arms and legs), muscle rigidity (stiff muscles), and postural instability (wobbliness) start to happen.
These symptoms can make life very difficult for people to do everyday tasks – standing up, walking to the shops, cooking, cleaning, playing sports, etc.
So, it is very important for doctors to diagnose people with neurodegenerative disease as early as possible so that they can stop the symptoms from getting worse.
Here’s what I do:
I record tiny electrical signals from muscle – electromyography – and then I look for hidden patterns in the signals which might tell us if somebody has Parkinson’s disease or not.
To look for these hidden patterns, I use a branch of maths called chaos theory.
Chaos theory is a way of looking at a dynamical system – like the human body, a car, a colony of ants, or anything with lots of moving parts – to try to find out how all those parts work together in time.
Here are some of the analytical techniques from chaos theory that I use:
- Fractals – a way of looking for recurring patterns.
Intro to Fractals // What are Fractals??? // Ted Talk on Fractals
Fractals Explained // Application of Fractal Geometry // Mandelbrot Fractals
- Entropy – a way of measuring randomness.
Advanced Intro to Entropy
- Determinism – a way of finding how structured (deterministic) a signal is.Check out this animation to understand of determinism is calculated!
So, by taking fancy maths techniques and applying them to muscle signals, we can find ways to detect disease! Simples! 🙂
- Fractals – a way of looking for recurring patterns.
My Typical Day
In an office, clinic or lab
Up at 7am.
I get to the office at 8.45.
I pick up my equipment and go to the hospital for 9.15.
At the hospital, I perform experiments with patients who have Parkinson’s disease.
These experiments can take from 1.5-2 hours.
I get back to my desk around 11.30am.
There, I process the data I collected to make sure it’s correct.
Then I start to write computer code to run some data analysis software, or to simulate a model of the human body.
I have lunch at 1.30pm.
Some days I’m a tutor for a engineering course, so if I’m not teaching, I’m correcting assignements.
Around 3pm, I continue with my computer simulations or I will spend a couple of hours reading research articles.
I leave work around 5.30-6pm.
What I'd do with the money
I would buy a graphical visualization software package
My research can be a very difficult concept to grasp.
To understand how signals in the brain synchronize, transmit to the muscle, how the body reacts, requires an advanced graphical visualization. And that is before attempting to depict the mathematical analysis.
The prize money on offer should be of great benefit as it would allow me to purchase advanced graphical editing software which can be employed to effectively convey the concept of neural engineering to students. Neural engineering is a rapidly growing field, and will impact on all of our lives. I think that students need to grasp it soon, as it will be intrinsic to their future lives.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Odd, curious, enthusiastic
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
White water rafting in the Alps
What did you want to be after you left school?
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Nah... Just a few late notes, no homeworks, etc...
What was your favourite subject at school?
Technical Graphics / Design & Communication Graphics (DCG)
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Designed my own Brain-Computer Interface
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Eat all I want and never get fat, go to space, win a Nobel Prize
Tell us a joke.
What do you call a cow with no legs? Ground beef.