Biomedical engineering PhD graduate’s studies hit close to home

Biomedical engineering PhD graduate Kory Mathewson, seen here with supervisors Mark Haykowsky and Richard Thompson, plans to teach and conduct research at the university level.

(Edmonton) Kory Mathewson suffered a devastating loss while working on his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. On the morning of his first university midterm exam, one of his grandfathers died. Shortly after he began working towards his master’s degree, the family feared for his other grandfather, who suffered a serious cardiac event.

Having lost one of the key figures in his life, Mathewson (Electrical ’10) knew he’d made the right choice in studying ways that engineering and scientific research can improve patient care.

“My grandfather has been an inspiration in my life, and when he suffered that heart failure it really motivated me,” said Mathewson, who graduates Nov. 19 with a master’s degree in biomedical engineering. “The more he told me about his surgery and his exercise impairments, the more I thought, ‘What can I do to help? Not just him but others with and at-risk for heart failure.’”

Engineering plays a major role in medical research and patient care, and Mathewson dove into the field head first.

“It has always been a passion of mine to apply the knowledge I have to my passion for people, to apply my expertise to help someone live a better life.”

His master’s degree research project, conducted under the supervision of Department of Biomedical Engineering professor Richard Thompson and Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine professor Mark Haykowsky, revolves around new MRI techniques that can be used as a diagnostic and training tool for patients with, and at-risk for, heart failure.

His research has been accepted for publication in the journal Magnetic Resonance in Medicine.

Mathewson describes MRI machines as “similar to a digital camera that has exponentially more settings that we can tweak,” to see what works to give different contrasts and the best images.

“We built a new MRI technique to image muscle oxygen consumption and blood flow simultaneously during exercise,” Mathewson explained, “to expose what is happening to the heart, and the body as a whole, under stress.

Improving through improvising

Mathewson is also an advocate of the other best medicine: laughter. A renowned improviser, he is a member of Rapid Fire Theatre and serves on the board of directors of the Varscona Theatre. He says he applies his engineering education to teaching improvisation, and applies improv skills to engineering and research.

“They are disparate disciplines, but there is a balance that comes out of them. I learned creativity and abstract thinking from improv and apply that to scientific problems, and it really helps me when I need to do presentations at conferences.

“And all of my logical breakdowns of how improv works come from using systems analysis methods that I learned in engineering.”

Naturally, he and his grandfather have been in close communication about the research and what it means.

“He appreciates discussing the technology so much—it’s nice for him to be able to discuss it with his grandson, to have the shared vocabulary.”

With his master’s degree complete, Mathewson is now planning to complete a PhD in computer science and ultimately to teach and conduct research at the university level. He’s currently working with Patrick Pilarski (PhD Electrical Engineering ’09) and the Bionic Limbs for Improved Natural Control (BLINC) Lab on advancing intelligent systems in biomedical devices.

His ultimate goal is to make a difference in people’s lives through biomedical engineering.

“We can build tools that will give people the opportunity to live longer, healthier lives,” he said. “It is further proof that exercise is the best medicine, diagnostically and in rehabilitative and preventative training.”