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Helping out with the Mission Discovery by the ISSET

Posted 15th November 2017

Karina Lopez is a PhD student working on Atrial and Myocardial Tissue Characterisation with Motion Corrected 3D Whole Heart MRI supervised by Rene Botnar, Reza Razavi and Sebastién Roujol. Her project is supported by Siemens

The Mission Discovery event was attended by school pupils from around the UK and the world and made in collaboration with the International Space School Educational Trust (ISSET). The main idea being that students get to work with astronauts, rocket scientists and NASA leaders to create a biomedical experiment, get it built and then carried out on the International Space Station.

The week went smoothly and to schedule and the talks were mostly useful and interesting, especially those given by King's professors. The activities for the students on the first and last days were very engaging and most of them seemed to enjoy themselves quite a lot. There were a couple of ideas pitched by the students which were truly interesting and had potential for serious research.

I liked tutoring the students and helping them refine their ideas. As they all specifically applied for this event, they were all keenly interested in science so they would constantly engage and raise questions. As a physicist in the broad biomedical sciences I normally find myself a minority, however I was able to be of help in many groups even those with a marked focus on biology.

My project is about clinical translation. The idea is to both simplify and improve the way in which cardiologists detect and characterise myocardial fibrosis, present in many cardiomyopathies and major substrate to arrhythmia. What I do is to use theoretical principles of MRI to develop a new sequence and protocol that will remove the need of an external contrast agent while also addressing all the drawbacks of the current gold standard.

Even though most of my tutoring was on general scientific method and simple physics and engineering of experiments, the talking may have drifted towards my own work once or twice. In these occasions it's always difficult to explain the vast complexity of medical imaging techniques, such as MRI. The vendors of MRI scanners seem to have done a pretty good marketing job during the last decades: the idea that MRI scanner is a finished machine akin to a microwave which already gives you all the information you could possibly want to know, is firmly rooted in everyone's head (mine included, before diving deeply into Imaging field). After you have convinced them that there's plenty of room for improvement in the Imaging Sciences then it comes the question, what do you actually do? I'm a scientist. I do experiments. I draw conclusions that will make life easier, that might save people's lives, that might make healthcare more efficient and fairer.

I will definitely do more science engagement. I think these programmes and events are remarkably positive experiences for everyone involved. I remember getting first interested in science in an initiative like this too. I will like to be part of something like this regularly if time allows.

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