Weekly Head Voices #3: Powerless meat Zen, Xi leaves, NFBI, Motek


You thought I’d forgotten all about you, dintcha?  Nope, not that easily.

Because this edition of the Weekly Head Voices is the most unorganised ever, the trick of bolding the most representative words in each paragraph simply won’t fly.  So instead I’ll just highlight some random words, and you can pretend that they actually mean something.  Think of it as a post-modernistic exercise in missing the point.  I’ll try and be more organised next week.

The most post-relevant image I could find: The overfull bicycle parking behind Delft station on Thursday just after noon, right before leaving for the NFBI meeting in Leiden (see later in this post). Turns out that in the Netherlands, there's on average slightly more than one bicycle for each and every inhabitant.

The most post-relevant image I could find: The overfull bicycle parking behind Delft station on Thursday just after noon, right before leaving for the NFBI meeting in Leiden (see later in this post). Turns out that in the Netherlands, there's on average slightly more than one bicycle for each and every inhabitant.

The past week, #37 of the year 2009, started really quietly with only two regular, but interesting, progress meetings on the Monday.  On Tuesday, things started heating up with another two meetings (nice ones) and a 2-hour long Medical Visualisation demo to a friendly gentleman from VisibleTV, a production company that has been contracted by my employer to put together an 8-minute video showcasing all medically-oriented research at the TU.  Due to the chaos of trying to book affordable plane tickets to Atlantic City that don’t involve 3 days of transit via donkey and a stint on the back of a livestock truck, I found myself in a slightly ruffled state by the end of the day.

I detest ending my day in a ruffled state, even if it is an ever so slight ruffle.

However, fate (we’ll talk about that much later) had conspired to return me forcibly to my preferred Zen state via three powerful avenues: I had to go BBQ at home with family and an extremely welcome guest, and, to make sure that the BBQ had the desired effect, the whole of Westland (my region) lost electricity from right about when I started the fire until midnight.  Just to make sure that the message hit home, the weather was perfect.  Picture this: Darkened houses, perfect dusk, balmy weather, superb quiet except for people all keeping each other company outside.  Complete Zen.

The next day was predictably a winner.  Now Zen-powered, I managed to kill off a scarily big chunk of my over-engineered todo list, in spite of 5 meetings and Xi’s farewell occasion.  Yes, I’m afraid that after a year of visiting our group, doing great work and generally integrating just perfectly, Xi has gone back to Beijing.  We are definitely going to miss her.

The highlight of Thursday was the bi-annual meeting of the Netherlands Forum for Biomedical Imaging, or the NFBI, an acronym that is in fact a significant improvement over NVPHBV (man, what an inside joke).  The NFBI is where all Dutch research groups that do something in biomedical imaging get together to discuss that something.  The meetings usually consist of a number of research presentations.  On Thursday, these were mostly given by post-doctoral researchers.  One thing that struck me was that although the content was of a consistently high quality, the presentations themselves sometimes were amenable to improvement.  I understand that the biggest challenge is actually doing the research, but the value of presenting that research in an accessible and entertaining way should not be underestimated.

My personal favourite, and probably not amenable to all that much improvement :), was the presentation by Dr Bram Platel of his group’s work on Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) of the sub-thalamic nucleus (STN).  Turns out that by stimulating this peanut-sized part of the basal ganglia system (by sticking an electrode deep into the brain, hence the name), you can for example remedy some of the motoric symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.  The problem is that if you stimulate the non-motor parts of the STN, this can result in acute depression.  Bram and his group are trying to solve this problem by figuring out the patient-specific layout of the STN via high angular resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI), an MRI-based imaging technique that is able to show structural connectivity in the brain.  Man, I thought that that was going to be a nice and short explanation…  In sharp contrast to my paraphrased version, the presentation entertained, edified and engaged.  To compensate, I alliterate.

Friday morning started with two meetings in Leiden: One concerning starting up new neuro-imaging research together with the LUMC and an extremely capable M.Sc. student, and the other concerning productising existing research.  The former is still in stealth mode, the latter involves putting the motion capture and visualisation software developed by two groups of bachelor students (and ourselves) into production use, first in the LUMC Motion Laboratory, and finally in other labs as open source.

The work week was concluded with a fantastic visit at Motek Medical in Amsterdam, together with Frans, motion scientist extraordinaire, who was the primary guest and graciously invited us along, and Peter, surgical planning guru and motion visualiser of note.  Motek makes and advises on a number of different motion platforms (think for example a 2m conveyor belt on top of a flight-simulator-like collection of hydraulics), matching giant screens and various motion capture setups that enable all kinds of virtual reality and motion measurement magic.  The embedded YouTube clip below shows a demo of their HBM system, that’s able to estimate muscle activation from motion capture in real time:

At the core of all their products is the CAREN software system.  This is an impressive data-flow framework with a visual programming front-end that enables real-time communication with all kinds of sensors and actuators, from humble rotation sensor all the way up to multi-camera optical tracking and industrial-grade hydraulics.  Our gracious hosts, Erwin Albers and Thomas Geijtenbeek, demonstrated by linking up a fresh rotation sensor with collision detection in all of 2 minutes.

So, that was it for this week boys and girls!  I was still planning a short bit on the evolutionary basis of music and dance (seems to be an interesting mystery), but the current post already seems to have outgrown my intentions.   See you in a week, most probably with a much smaller edition of the WHV (Weekly Head Voices man!).  I’m planning a quiet week, at least in terms of bloggable highlights. :)