Students Learn About Sensors In Scotland

Walter Besio
Dr. Besio marks the locations on Ahmaad Randall’s head where the sensors should go. Photo by Chris Dyer.

By Neil Nachbar

This past fall, a small group of URI biomedical engineering students attended the IEEE Sensors 2017 conference in Glasgow, Scotland with URI Professor Walter Besio and College of Engineering Director of Diversity Chuck Watson.

IEEE Sensors is the flagship conference of the IEEE Sensors Council, an organization consisting of 25 IEEE member societies. The conference attracted a record 932 attendees from 40 countries.

The four URI students included Ahmaad Randall, Melissa Santi, Merci Ujeneza and Renee Gordan, who is also studying German, as part of URI’s International Engineering Program (IEP).

All four are LSAMP Scholars (Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation). The LSAMP program receives funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to strengthen the preparation, representation, and success of historically under-represented minority students in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

“Chuck sent out a mass email, explaining the details of the trip and the conference, and he asked us to reply if interested,” recalled Randall. “Once I heard about this trip, I knew I had to go.”

In conjunction with a keynote speech Besio gave on “The Journey from the Brain and Back: Two-Way Communication,” the students performed a live demonstration. They prepared ahead of time by getting used to the equipment.

“Prior to the conference, the students came to my lab to learn how to use my tripolar electroencephalography (EEG),” said Besio. “They practiced putting the system on each other, running the software and recording their own brain signals. They used their thoughts to control (move) objects on the computer monitor in real-time. They also acquired their visual evoked potentials. They reversed a checkerboard pattern on the screen a few times and that caused signals in the visual cortex, called visual evoked potentials.”

As pictured above, Randall served as the test subject during the conference demonstration, meaning, the tripolar electrodes were attached to his head.

“Having learned about the core concepts of Dr. Besio’s research and invention prior to the trip, I liked being able to explain the key differences between the professor’s tripolar electrodes and conventional electrodes at the conference,” said Randall.

Besio, an IEEE Brain Initiative board member, also co-organized a conference track, “Sensing the Brain,” and gave an invited talk in a special session of the track.

Besides participating in the demonstration, the students had the opportunity to listen to presentations from researchers about sensors and view posters about sensors research. The event took place from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1.

The opportunity to participate in an international conference made a lasting impression on the students.

“I found the experience very enlightening. Seeing all the different research taking place around the world was an eye-opener for me,” said Gordon. “Some of the research I knew about, others were mind-blowing. Attending the conference motivated me to work 110% this semester. I would definitely want to attend another conference.”

“Going to this conference made me realize how much I still don’t know,” said Randall. “Someone can spend their entire life learning intricate details of a specific subject. It made me reconsider going to grad school. Grad school gives you the resources and knowledge to do anything you put your mind to. Glasgow, Scotland was an experience I’ll never forget.”

Besio praised the URI students for the important role they played at the conference.

“The students were a joy to have with me. They did a great job,” said Besio. “They were very professional and did everything in their power to make the event a success, which it was.”