University of Sydney PhD biomedical engineering candidate, Seamus Thomson secured a 10-week internship with NASA's Ames Research in California in 2016 and was asked to continue for a further year after he impressed the team.
To score your dream job at the age of 24 is a rare but enviable position to be in, especially when your new employer is NASA.
Currently Seamus is working on two separate projects that are part of future missions into the solar system. The first is looking into how to best sterilise equipment for NASA’s Ice Breaker mission to Mars, while the other has him working on inflight life-detecting biosensors as part of a mission to Encleadus, one of Saturn’s moons. Enceladus has been chosen for this mission as it appears to meet the criteria needed for life to exist: liquid water, nitrogen, an energy source and organics.
After completing his Bachelor of Mechanical (Biomedical) Engineering (Honours) / Bachelor of Medical Science (Pharmacology) at Sydney University in 2015, Seamus started his PhD, with his work at NASA contributing to his thesis. He is conducting clinical and laboratory research in osseointegration – a technology for lower-limb amputees where the prosthesis is connected to an implant that is anchored to the residual bone.
Not someone to focus on just one or two projects, Seamus is also the founder of Vasoprint, a company that develops patient-specific 3D vascular maps through a unique algorithm that converts 2D images into ready-to-print vasculature templates. His team has recently been in talks with investors interested in acquiring their technology.
We asked Seamus what a typical day at NASA looks like and what got him interested in biomedical engineering in the first place.
I have always been passionate about helping people and at the same time I love to build things, so it seemed natural that biomedical engineering was the perfect fit for me.
My mother is a teacher and my father a graphic designer, so I was incredibly lucky to be surrounded by a mix of knowledge and creativity that has certainly impacted my work.
That’s a tough one! Working on projects that can have a big impact excites me. Although these projects generally have tough problems to solve and a high chance of failure, there is nothing more fulfilling than taking on something difficult and finding a solution.
Clinical research has exposed me to people suffering from diseases and this has motivated me to direct my research towards making a better life for these individuals through innovation.
NASA is a dynamic and inclusive environment where I feel like I am making decisions that directly impact missions. The people who work here are incredibly passionate and driven, and it creates an atmosphere where we are all working towards one goal. I feel like I am learning new things every day, whether it be in research, product design or even project management.
A typical day would see me working in the lab on different sensors, presenting the results to NASA scientists and engineers, and discussing how we can further their development in the context of the mission.
I believe in making the most of any opportunity that comes your way and giving 110%. NASA is a collaborative environment with common goals and I felt like my approach resonated with their goals. During my internship, I became involved with as many projects and people as possible to make the most of my time.
Although I am living in California at the NASA base, I am continuing with my PhD work through the University of Sydney. The skills I am acquiring at NASA are valuable for my research in osseointegration and have sparked some awesome research ideas and direction.
My supervisors, Sydney University’s Hala Zreiqat and world-renowned surgeon, Dr Munjed al Muderis are leading the world in their respective fields and shaping the future of medical innovation. They are my role models and I am honoured to be their student.
It is important to finish my PhD and bring the skills I have acquired at NASA back to Australia. I see an innovative future for Australia, especially in the medical sphere and I hope I can better the lives of many who are less fortunate than myself.