What is a Biomedical Engineer?

As part of my ongoing series on What is A…. I am delighted to share my latest interview with Ivor Geoghegan a Team Leader with Cell Explorers and a PhD Student at NUI Galway.  Last year I was able to attend an event ran by Cell Explorers during #ScienceWeek called How to Find DNA.  Please read my blog about that event to learn more about the workshop.

What does an Biomedical Engineer do?

– A biomedical engineering is someone who use engineering principles and tools (such as figuring out how materials behave, like measuring how stiff they are) and applying this to biology. While I work in a biomedical engineering department, my training is in science. While science and engineering overlap a lot, the main differences would be that scientists tend to ask more basic science questions (like how does gravity work?), and engineering use that knowledge and apply it to a task/invention (like building a rocket). Nowadays scientists and engineers work side by side on projects and use their different training to solve more complex problems.

Who would be your hero?  Who would you be excited to meet in your field?

– My science heroes would be Carl Sagan and Alice Roberts. They were/are both respected scientists in their fields, but they also work to spread their knowledge of science to a greater audience. In my field, I am most excited when any visiting researcher comes to our department to give a talk or when I get to listen to talks at scientific conferences. This is where I hear about all the cool research that goes on in the world

How long have you been a Biomedical Engineer?

– If you include my time at college, I have been studying/working in the fields of science and engineering for 12 years.

Did you want to be one when you were younger or something else?

– I kept changing my mind about what I wanted to be as a kid. A few different careers I wanted was astronaut, doctor, architect, and artist. But when I learned about science, I realised that was the one for me.

Why did you pick Biomedical Engineering? Is it a stepping stone to a different role?

– I chose it because I had an interest in it. I always tried to pick the next step that appealed to me the most, even if it wasn’t the straightest line to a nice career. I think if you do it that way, you might find a career that you never heard of before and that might be the best fit for you.

Why would you suggest Biomedical Engineering as a job for me?

– I think that if you want to work in biomedical engineering, it helps if you like maths and biology. If so, I think it would be a great fit for you.

What qualifications did you need?  Where did you study?

– My career in science started back in 2007. At that time, I did a 4 year undergraduate course in science in NUI Galway, where I studied lots about physics, maths, and anatomy (a field of biology that studies what people are made of). After that, I worked for a few years in a medical device company in Galway. The work was good, but I wanted to learn more about science so I went back to college and did a 1 year masters course in biomedical science in NUI Galway. In this course, I learned about biomedical engineering/science and really liked it. After that, I applied for a PhD with Prof. Laoise McNamara in NUI Galway and I have been here ever since.

What has been the “best day” at your job?

– Well, one day I was trying to use a microscope to look at the cells I was working with. I had stained them with a special dye. I had tried many times before to do this, but it hadn’t worked for me. I tried several different methods and worked with other researchers in my group and my supervisors to solve the problem of why the dye wasn’t working. That day, when I looked at my cell, the dyes had worked and I was able to see them clearly and saw what I expected to see. I was so happy that I wanted to jump out of my chair and dance 🙂

Image courtesy of Ivor Geoghagen

Image courtesy of Ivor Geoghagen

How did you end up working at the CURAM at NUI Galway?

– I was at the end of my masters source and I saw an interesting PhD project in NUI Galway and applied for it. Right now, I am doing this PhD with Prof. Laoise McNamara (NUI Galway) and Dr. David Hoey (Trinity College Dublin). My work is done in the biomedical engineering department in NUI Galway, and I am funded by CÚRAM Centre for Research in Medical Devices.

What is coming up next for you?

– I’m not fully sure what my next step will be after my PhD, but I’m excited to see what comes up

My PhD project

– Right now, I am working on a project to see how the cells in your bones respond to everyday forces (such as the force you put on your bones as you walk around). When your cells feel the forces from you walking around, they can send signals to other bone cells to make your bone stronger. I am very interested in how this response changes in diseases like osteoporosis (a brittle bone disease). This project involves working with a team of scientists and engineers to study the disease of osteoporosis together.


Thanks Ivor, that was really interesting. Maybe I will be a Biomedical Engineer when I’m older! Hmmm. I’ll have a think about that.

I hope you enjoyed my blog. Tune in a week or so for my next one. Bye!

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