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Engineering | Undergraduate Research

Christopher Saar, Travel Grant

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Christopher Saar, Travel Grant

Biomedical Engineering major and FURI researcher, Christopher Saar recently attended the Electrical Impedance Tomography 2017 in Hanover, New Hampshire. He presented his presentation, “Magnetic Flux Density Comparisons Between MREIT and FE Models,” under the mentorship of Dr. Rosalind Sadleir, an expert in neural rehabilitation and neural engineering. We asked Christopher to share some details about his research and experience.

In layman terms, what was the conference about?  

Electrical impedance tomography (EIT) is an imaging technique that produces maps of the conductivity distribution inside the body. In EIT techniques, current is applied to the body via external or internal electrodes. This current flow produces a voltage distribution that can be measured and reconstructed as conductivity distribution. EIT is known for its high sensitivity to conductivity changes and is now used clinically to aid ventilation strategies for ICU patients. However, EIT reconstructions are hard to perform, and it is extremely difficult to use EIT to find absolute conductivity distributions or produce high-resolution images.

What motivated you to participate in this event?

In our neuro-electricity lab we use a variation on EIT called Magnetic Resonance Electrical Impedance Tomography (MREIT). In MREIT, we do not measure voltages caused by the applied currents, we measure the magnetic fields they create. This information can be collected throughout the body as part of the MR images. Because we collect more complete information we can reconstruct absolute conductivities. We use MREIT map current densities in neural tissues of the human head. This is part of our work in understanding mechanisms of transcranial electrical stimulation neuromodulation techniques.

What presentations did you attend?  

An interesting presentation at the conference was done by a group from Ireland where they produced phantoms that could mimic tissue conductivity using the composition of graphite carbon black and polyurethane molds. In some examples, they produced versions of this technique as human heads with internal brain molds. This may have some crossover in my research as I try to calculate the conductivity of the skin and skull of the human head.

A group from Harvard also presented on using electrical impedance tomography to measure fat thickness. The measurements were then validated using an ultrasound. In this study, they created models from known imaging, which provided data on the fat thickness that they were trying to measure. They concluded that their EIT reconstruction were in agreement with their simulations and ultrasound data. I found this presentation interesting because I am trying to understand the conductivities of tissues in the head as they pertain to transcranial electric stimulation. Some people carry a larger amount of fat under their skin, which could affect the tES as it approaches the skull and brain. I currently have limited data on this, but it’s a variable to consider in future research.

What was the best part about the conference?

As research students, we often spend time finding literature to support our approaches as evidence to why we choose our values, technique, and methods. It was nice to see a presented ‘living’ version of this research and be able to ask questions in person. I found that this conference was an active version of research science that is complimentary to the research process.

Has your involvement with this conference influenced your research plans?

My plans are still going in the same direction; however, I found that I wished to become even more knowledgeable about the specifics of my own lab.

Is there anything you wish you knew before attending the conference?

I think my expectations were about the same. The conference provided a clear outline of what to expect.

Any suggestions for other students regarding conferences? 

If you are doing any research, approach your process as if you are going to present it to other people. It helps to imagine giving a voice to your work, since we often become overly focused and forget that we need to paint a picture for others in order to engage other people in your work.

Going to a conference? Have research-related travel needs? Apply for the Undergraduate Research Travel Grant!

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