Speaking of the senses, I hear there are big leaps forward in biomedical engineering

6th July 2012 at 01:00
Mind over matter is coming to the fore in science's bid to overcome our physical frailties

You might find this a bit weird, but every morning when I pop my hearing aids in, I try to do so at a time when I'll notice the difference. Most days this is when I switch the kettle on for the first cup of tea of the day. I immediately hear the high- frequency hissings that would otherwise be lost to me.

Better still was the time when I had taken them off during a rainy all- night charity walk as part of a team organised by my daughter to support Cancer Research. Driving home with the stereo on, I realised I hadn't put the aids back on. When it was safe to do so, I reactivated my bionic lugs and Baker Street came once again into sharp aural focus.

It would be logical to assume that I go through this ritual to test that everything is working, but it goes deeper than that and has more to do with gratitude towards the scientists who designed the things and the NHS people who fixed me up with them.

Jump to a Glasgow University Biomedical Engineering Department applicants' day that I attended with my son. A young man sits on a comfy chair beside a laptop computer. He appears to be wearing a swimming cap with lots of wires coming from it. Being a bit scientific myself, I conclude that these are electrodes monitoring brain signals and it turns out that I am correct.

The wires go to a control box that is interfaced to the PC. Two wires from the control box run to pads. A lady puts these on my son's bare arm. The man with the shower cap thinks about moving his own arm. My son's arm moves instead - as does my lower jaw, opening in a sort of "I-didn't-know- they-were-so-far-on" way.

The department's Professor Liz Tanner shows us a video of a paraplegic chap riding a recumbent trike using his own leg power. Awed by the engineering, and having warmed immediately to Professor Tanner (despite her asserting that this was the century of biology), I contrive to walk beside her as we move between labs. To my delight, she agrees to come and speak at an SSERC course.

On the drive home, my son and I periodically mime strangling ourselves with our own hands (when it is safe to do so), but I have in fact been deeply moved by what I have seen, all the more so because Mrs S is scheduled for a computer-assisted knee replacement. Science and engineering so obviously transforming lives.

And here's something else to think about - unusually for an engineering course, half the students we met were female.

Gregor Steele also liked the swallowable M2A camera, where M stood for `mouth'.

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