Published by: Gisborne Herald 

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Two years of study in engineering at Canterbury University helped Gisborne’s Adam Donaldson navigate his summer internship with medical imaging research centre Matai Research.

Now in his third year of study in mechatronics — a combination of electronics and mechanical engineering — Adam has completed 10 weeks working as Matai’s first intern.

The computational modelling and impact simulation he was involved in will support the Gisborne-based medical imaging centre’s concussion research.

“My main project was to take MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) images to create 3D computer models of parts of the brain and skull,” Adam said.

“You can compare with other models to see if they’re the same. You can test various scenarios.”

By applying a virtual, concussion-like force to simulate a brain injury the computer model shows the mechanical stress the organ has suffered.

“The aim is to find properties in the brain and how they work.”

“You ‘mesh’ the model brain with a net of small triangles. The general principle is then to apply mechanical properties — strength or rigidity for example — then enter this into the computer so the model has those properties,” says Adam.

“The mesh then has a force or displacement applied to it to simulate impacts like a concussion. The model will show the stress, deformation and damage from that impact.”

The research aims, in part, to enable early treatment for brain injury, even if the patient shows no overt symptoms.

A recipient of the Canterbury University engineering top scholar award and excellence scholarship, Adam is in his third year of a four-year course of study at Canterbury. He is 19, soon to turn 20.

His internship with Matai Research contributes towards the 800 hours of work experience needed in order to graduate.

“It was really interesting to learn and opened up a new area for me,” he says.

“There’s so much you can do and learn. I saw a side of engineering I hadn’t seen before.”

While he has a range of career pathways to consider after he completes his studies next year, bioengineering is “definitely an option.”