Friday, September 4, 2009

31st Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society

I’m posting this blog from Minneapolis, Minnesota, where I am attending the 31st Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. The theme of the conference is “Engineering the Future of Biomedicine,” and there are many fascinating talks and posters that would interest readers of the 4th Edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology. Conference chair Bin He and his colleagues have put together a great meeting.

My friend Ranjith Wijesinghe and I have a poster later today about the “Effect of Peripheral Nerve Action Currents on Magnetic Resonance Imaging.” We analyzed if the magnetic field of action currents can be used to generate an artifact in an MRI, allowing direct imaging of biocurrents in the brain. There has been a lot of interest, and many publications, on this topic recently, but we conclude that the magnetic fields are just too small to have a measureable effect.

Last night, I got to hear Earl Bakken give a talk on “The History of Short-Term and Long-Term Pacing.” Bakken is a giant in the history of artificial pacemakers, and is the founder of Medtronic Corportion based in Minneapolis. He talked about the early years when Medtronic was a small electronics laboratory in a garage. He recommended a 10-minute video on YouTube, which he said told his story well. He also quoted one of my favorite books, Machines in our Hearts, a wonderful history of pacemakers and defibrillators. Tonight a social is being held at the Bakken Museum, “the only museum of its kind in the country, [where you can] learn about the history of electricity and magnetism and how it relates to medicine.” For a guy like me, this is great stuff.

So far, the presentations are fascinating and inspirational. I must admit, the students who attend these conferences always stay the same age as I grow older. I don’t think these meetings used to be this exhausting for me. As that old Garth Brooks song says, “the competition's getting younger.” They are also getting more diverse. The speaker who welcomed us to the Bakken talk said that in just a few years, Americans will be a minority within the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. This is not difficult to believe, after seeing researchers from so many countries attending this year.

As I survey all the research presented at this meeting, I am proud that so much of the underlying science is described in Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology. I am more convinced than ever that Russ Hobbie and I have written a book that will be of great value to future biomedical engineers.

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