Posted by Tony Kim (Siemens Medical-Erlangen, Germany)
Hi all! My name is Tony Kim. Last June, I finished up my undergraduate work in electrical engineering and physics at MIT. Following graduation and a few weeks of goofing off in Boston, I decided to come to Germany for a short-term internship in order to put my language preparation to use, which is something that I started my freshman year of high school. It works just fine.
I’m working at Siemens Healthcare in Erlangen, a small town not so far away from Nuremberg. Here, I’m working on MRI (magnetic resonance) image processing work, and it’s really a wonderful fit for me. The origin of image distortions is physical — namely, eddy currents arising from high current switching — so that I really go back and forth between basic physics and higher-level image correction algorithms. Although I’m working at a totally engineering, “product development”-type of group, all of my colleagues have a deep background with MR physics; so, the generally high level of technical knowledge makes it very fun to work here. As it turns out, I’m doing quite well here, and have been given pretty much full independence to pursue the project in whatever way I like, with regular updates to my supervisor. But I like consulting with my colleagues; like I mentioned, they know NMR extremely well.
In fact, my work here reminds me a lot of my experience in Junior lab. But instead of the intense two-week turnover deadline (as many of you may know), I have the entire summer to investigate a particular subject. So, I have the opportunity to go the extra distance and do things the “right way”, which I often talked about in my Junior lab presentations, but never did, because of the time constraints.
MRI machines are really modern atomic physics labs enclosed in a huge “black box” (actually, more like a room-sized cabinet). There’s a more-or-less attractive computer control center, which is connected to that “black box” in some hidden-away room. This room contains all the hardware that one would expect in an atomic physics experiment, not a medical clinic. Lots of wires coming out of the back room then connect to the patient room, where the donut-shaped MRI machine sits. Obviously, it’s donut-shaped because it’s a solenoid.
One of the things that I’m currently trying to do is to come up with evidence that the image distortions actually show the structure one would expect if they were tied to eddy-current physics in the machine. We needed more data, so just last week, I volunteered to go in the machine to collect a lot more. I was forced to sign a few forms that said something (among others) like: I know that these scans are being conducted for research purposes, and by scientific personnel rather than medical doctors… so that even if there is something wrong with my head, it might go unnoticed anyway… or something like that. It’s pretty surreal to explore internally a 3D model of your head. I attached a few photos to give an impression.
Here I am, going into the solenoid. It’s surprisingly loud. When the machine is collecting data, it sounds like you’re under machine gun fire.
Various cutaways of my head. When I asked my supervisor if everything looked normal, he replied: “I dunno, there’s a brain in there though.”
My work specifically has to do with the preprocessing needed to draw these tracts in the brain.
A few days ago, we wanted to make sure that the machine software was giving us values in the same coordinate system that we were using for our image analysis. We went to the machine, turning up and down specific current coils, and measured the corresponding changes in the magnetic field. We (me and my supervisor) were there with our notebooks, taking measurements. Just like at MIT.
So, work is wonderful here. The main difficulty has been the food, although I’m getting used to it. Every morning, I grab a small hard-crust roll — a “Kaiserbrötchen” — and for the last few days I’ve been having croissants (“Bamberger”) and pretzels (“Laugenbreze”) for dinner. Ja, as I found out by living at a student dorm, German dinners are outrageously meager. Luckily there are a few students from Spain who eat more appropriate amounts and also at a more appropriate time (at least, according to MIT standards).
On the weekends I’ve been able to travel a bit. For instance, Salzburg and Berchtesgaden with a friend from high school, which was extremely cool, since the last clear memory I have of him is 12th grade math class in Edmonds, WA. Now we were eating lunch at some outrageously expensive restaurant in Nuremberg. I also went up to the Ruhr region some time ago to visit a former professor. Bamberg was also super pretty.
Pic at Mirabell palace in Salzburg.
Coming up this week is a second tour of duty in the MRI machine, return to Berchtesgaden for a certain hike, and a medieval festival in Nuremberg. Awesome.