The 2009 Cornhill Prizes in Biomedical Engineering

The Department of Engineering Science recently awarded two Cornhill Prizes for excellent DPhil projects in biomedical engineering.

Photos of prize-winners: Alistair Hann (left) and Alexander Rowley (right)Alistair Hann's thesis, on "Multi-parameter monitoring for early warning of patient deterioration", won the best doctoral thesis in biomedical engineering prize. Alexander Rowley, won the outstanding doctoral thesis prize in biomedical engineering for his project on "Signal processing methods for cerebral autoregulation."

Dr JF Cornhill, who has donated these two prizes for the last three years, said "It is a great pleasure for me as the Founding Director of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering to be able to fund these prizes which recognise the best of the best students in Biomedical Engineering at Oxford."

Alistair Hann's thesis was supervised by Professor Lionel Tarassenko, current Director the Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IBME). Alistair said: "My research related to vital signs monitoring of patients in high dependency care, and the upper end of the general ward. Patients in these places can suffer adverse events such as cardiac arrest and unexpected death. It is difficult for clinical staff to identify patients likely to suffer from these events as the events are rare and observation of patients is infrequent. Although existing patient monitors enable continual observation, the alarms they produce are frequently false, leading to them being ignored by clinical staff. Using advanced signal processing and artificial intelligence techniques, I worked on producing much more reliable systems that provide early warning of degradation of a patient's condition."

During Alistair's work on his DPhil he had a business idea, which was to create a website that finds the cheapest, fastest, or greenest way to get between anywhere in the UK and anywhere else in Europe. Today Alistair is co-founder and Technical Director of his company called Zoombu, which recently received funding from the Said Business School Venture Fund. Zoombu integrates travel data from different websites using artificial intelligence techniques to save users hours arranging travel online. He said: "The information engineering techniques that I applied to analysing biomedical data when I was at Oxford can also be applied to data from other areas, even transport… my career move is a big change but not the quantum leap that people might think."

The DPhil research that Alistair undertook is being extended by current graduate students and research assistants in the Institute of Biomedical Engineering. New parameters are being introduced to the model and a wireless version of the system is being developed for patients who are mobile.

Alistair, who received a prize of £750 for his thesis, intends to replace his old laptop which is six years old.

Alexander Rowley's thesis on "signal processing methods for cerebral autoregulation" was supervised by Dr Stephen Payne, Tutorial Fellow in Engineering Science, and involved working with a medical research team in London.

Alexander said: "My thesis involved investigating blood flow and its control by the body. My DPhil research was an extension of my 4th Year project - from biology and physiology I focussed on mathematical modelling i.e. methods of assessing coupling between blood flow in the brain and blood pressure using real clinical measurements. I presented four related studies of cerebral autoregulation, developing advanced quantification tools and using data collected by colleagues in the Laboratory of Human Cerebrovascular Physiology in Alberta, Canada, and the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, UK."

Today, Alexander works in the finance sector for global bank, BNP Paribas, as a Software Engineer. He said: "In my job I develop software that calculates trading risk for financial products. I'm still analysing large amounts of data but just in a different setting. The underlying techniques are similar to those I used during my DPhil research – instead of handling medical data I'm dealing with financial data."

Alexander's Cornhill Prize was for £250, which he will invest in savings!