Are you interested in a degree that combines science and imagination to push us beyond what we thought was possible? Just three years into his degree, Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical) (Honours) student Sam Parker has already helped break new ground in technology that will elevate both individuals and industries to achieve more.
At the University of Newcastle, Sam’s area of focus is biological signal processing, and brain-computer interface prosthetics (BCI).
“I always planned to use engineering to help people,” says Sam. “And I’ve always known I wanted to develop prosthetic devices.”
“[BCI] allows patients to control a robotic arm, using the power of thought alone,” explains Sam. “A BCI device will use your brainwaves to control a computer, or a robot, or a wheelchair or something else.”
“When communicating with UON, they suggested I study electrical engineering, because there’s a strong focus on signal processing and control theory. And the UON is very strong in those fields—it’s ranked eighth in the world in automation and control—so it was a great choice.”
To Sam, the potential impact this technology could have for people with disabilities is a powerful motivator.
“We can help so many people with these devices. People with amputations or paralysis patients. People with spinal cord injuries, or strokes, or other sort of degenerative diseases.”
In the course of his studies, Sam leveraged the close relationship between The University of Newcastle and The University of Pittsburgh’s engineering programs.
“They’re both world-renowned engineering schools, and that allows them to share students for a semester. So I was fortunate enough to be selected for a study abroad semester at the University of Pittsburgh, where I observed BCI firsthand.”
His eyes light up when he describes that first experience seeing neuroprosthetics in action.
“To be able to see a patient who was tetraplegic and had very little function in their hand and arms, be able to manipulate objects and shake my hand through the help of these devices, was really amazing.”
Sam went from one life-changing learning experience right into another. While in Pittsburgh, he applied for an engineering internship at NASA—and got it.
“I was jumping around my room, I was so excited. Calling my family, letting them know the great news. It was truly a dream come true.”
Sam travelled to California, where he participated in a five-month internship at Armstrong Flight Research Center.
“While I was there I worked on the X-57 experimental aircraft, run entirely on batteries [using] electric motors,” explains Sam.
“My job was to put the engine through their paces and make sure it was safe before we put it on the aircraft. The data I was analysing was often used in mission-critical decisions,” he says.
“NASA was a really fast-paced environment, and it felt like every day I was drawing on the knowledge I gained at the UON. From day one in First Year Circuits, all the way up to Digital Signal Processing and the more advanced concepts.”
After graduation, Sam hopes to continue postgraduate work in the BCI field.
“I want to make as much as a positive impact as possible, change as many lives as possible, and give as many patients another grasp on life as possible.”
From helping people live fuller lives, to advancing our knowledge of aerospace engineering, Sam is turning human potential into human achievement.