Professor Clare Elwell speaks about her science research and its impact
We spoke to Clare Elwell, a former LIYSF student and Professor of Medical Physics at UCL.
Tell us a bit about you:
I’m a Professor of Medical Physics in the Department of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering at University College London. My research involves the development of novel optical techniques for monitoring and imaging the human body. I lead a number of interdisciplinary teams using these techniques to investigate brain injury, autism, sports performance, migraine and depression. One of my current projects involves the use of optical brain imaging to understand the effects of malnutrition on the brain development of infants in rural Africa.
When did you realise that science research was what you wanted to do?
When I attended the LIYSF in 1984! I loved Maths and Physics at school but it was when I heard a lecture about Medical Physics at the LIYSF that I had my “lightbulb” moment and realized this was what I wanted to study. I have now worked in Medical Physics for over 25 years.
How is your research helping society and the broader science agenda?
My research provides tools to understand the human body, and more specifically the human brain. These tools have a wide range of uses. Clinical teams use our monitors to improve the management of patients with acute brain injury and thereby reduce the burden of long-term neurological deficits. Neurodevelopmental psychologists are using our techniques to deliver early markers of conditions such as autism.
What are you most excited about, in terms of physics and engineering, and why?
I have always been excited about how innovations in physics and engineering are revolutionizing modern-day healthcare. Medical physics and biomedical engineering impact so many different areas and I’m excited about how our optical imaging techniques are transforming the possibilities for when, where and how we image the human body.
What is the biggest challenge of your research?
Funding remains a major challenge in all areas of research. Scientifically, the main challenge of our research is to ensure that we have effective communication with our clinical/life science partners to ensure that we understand the problems we are solving. This is critical if our innovative engineering solutions are to have the biggest impact.
Where do you see your sector of science in 2020, in terms of scientific developments and advances?
In terms of brain imaging, we are developing ever more portable, wearable and low-cost systems which will enable patients and subjects to be monitored in a range of environments. For example, as the need for personalized healthcare continues to grow we will be responding to this by developing systems that can be used in the home.