Emil Møller Bartels can measure the electrical activity of the brain, thereby opening a window to understanding what is going on between our ears when we think and feel. He is a newly qualified MSc in Engineering. Now he wants to research into the human consciousness.
There is deep concentration in the neuro-technological laboratory at Aarhus University. Emil is fitting hundreds of small electrodes onto the head of an experiment subject. He has already fitted a small computer into the ear of another subject. The computer can do the same - measure voltage differences in the brain.
Using the computer, after a bit of advanced data processing, Emil can gain insight into our general mental condition, such as concentration level, intentions or feelings.
He has a Bachelor of Engineering in healthcare technology with an MSc in Engineering in biomedical technology, and he has just submitted his Master's thesis about reading brain activity through the ear.
"I've been working on developing a communication tool for people who can’t talk. Even though they can’t express themselves verbally, we can decode their responses to simple questions directly from the brain through the ear. "
The results of the thesis were very good. In fact, they had such high scientific quality, that Emil has now been given the go ahead to expand his experiments.
But that is not what’s most important. Out in the community - outside the University's fine experimental walls - there are people who are really in need. For example, patients with the fatal ALS disease, which degenerates the body's central nervous system and weakens the muscles so that people suffering from the disease find it difficult to walk, talk and eat.
"It’s terrible to imagine what it must be like to lose your ability to talk. But I hope that in the long term my work can help improve the quality of life for these patients. Even if it’s just a little, it’ll be worth all the work. It’s true - engineers do make a difference. You’re aware of this right from the first semester. "
Emil has a large network and knows many people from other programmes who are sitting at their desks working on projects and Master's theses about some theoretical problem.
Things are different on engineering study programmes - at least at Aarhus University. Here are extensive experiments and collaboration with researchers and companies, and that is one of the most important reasons why Emil put his cross in the engineering box at the last minute before the deadline for applications
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and it was more or less by chance that I discovered there’s something called health technology. That tied in very nicely with my interest in science and the body's anatomy and physiology. I've always been good at the theory, but I wanted to study something where I could apply my knowledge to something more concrete. "
He decided to work with brain measurements in his Master's thesis after a chat with one of the University's leading researchers in the field. Since then, the two have been working very closely together.
For him, it has been a special privilege to work closely with researchers and it’s been a rewarding experience to help garner new knowledge.
He had actually thought that he would leave university and get a job after his Bachelor’s. There were good opportunities, and the prospect of good pay, but instead he decided to take his MSc.
Now he is in precisely the same situation. As an engineer, companies are queuing up to take him on. And the pay he would be getting would make many of his contemporaries very jealous indeed. But he is not finished learning.
"The brain is a fantastic computer, and we have the technology to help us to understand it. Thoughts and feelings are basically an expression of a certain form of electrical activity, and we're getting better and better at decoding this activity. I just can’t turn my back on all this now that I’ve started."
Emil expects to start a PhD degree programme after the summer holidays with focus on examining how cognitive functions are expressed as brain activity.