An Undergraduate student from the
University of Sheffield will be presenting a
research paper at an international conference this week.

Alex Thorn, a MEng student from the Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering (ACSE) at the University will be travelling to the Towards Autonomous Robotic Systems (TAROS) conference which is being held the University of
Surrey
. There, he will present an oral paper on creating a
phantom variable stiffness tissue, innovative
research into creating artificial tissue for testing medical
robotics.

ACSE Student, Alex Thorn

The team, made up of four students including Alex and Dorukhan Afacan from ACSE; Emily Ingham from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Bioengineering; and Can Kavak from the Izmir Institute of Technology’s Department of Mechanical Engineering began researching how to create a sufficient alternative which would replicate oesophagus muscle so that medical robots could be tested. The problem was creating a synthetic material which would act like a real tissue, such as scarring after trauma.

Alex joined the project after applying to the Sheffield Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) scheme ran by the University of Sheffield which encourages undergraduates to take part in real life research projects, giving them vital experience they need for work.

Alex said: “I needed something to do over the summer last year. It is essential for any undergraduate to get experience. I had a few ideas about the artificial tissue and was really interested in that area, so I went to the academic lead, Dr Dana Damian, to talk through these ideas before applying for a place on the scheme.

“Research is quite unstructured because you are literally doing something that has not been done before so it is very different from undergraduate study.

“The conference is going to be interesting given it’s so close to the exams ending. The presentation itself is not the problem as ACSE give you a lot of opportunities to do presenting. It’s knowing what you are talking about because these are people who have been doing research in this field for years.”

TAROS is the longest running UK-hosted international conference on Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS), which is aimed at the presentation and discussion of the latest results and methods in autonomous robotics research and applications. The conference allows senior researchers as well as young scientists to present their work to the scientific community.

Academic Lead, Dr Dana Damian from ACSE, said: “There is a great need of mimicking soft biological tissues in order to allow efficient, faster and inexpensive translation of healthcare technologies. Soft robots can be endowed with the ability to change stiffness or morphology, just like biological tissues do, and thus, new medical devices can be better tuned to respond to possible pathological tissue changes. Our lab is particularly addressing malformations of the gastrointestine using robotic implants.”

Alex will be presenting on the second day of the three-day conference, after missing the first day so he can attend his graduation ceremony at the University of Sheffield.

He said: “I’m going straight on the train after my graduation to get down in time. There will be a lot of networking opportunities for me, because in ACSE there is always something new going on and it is great that I’ll be able to talk to people.”

For more information about robotics courses or PhD study opportunities available, please contact the Automatic Control and Systems Engineering department at the University of Sheffield by emailing acse@sheffield.ac.uk or calling 0114 222 5250.