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About step counters and brain surgery

About step counters and brain surgery

Photographer:Fotograaf: Archive Yasin Temel and Tamar Sharon

2015 New Scientist Research Talent

MAASTRICHT. Among the names of the 25 young Dutch and Belgian researchers competing for a new research prize, the New Scientist Wetenschapstalent 2015, there are two from Maastricht: neurosurgeon Yasin Temel (38) and philosopher Tamar Sharon (40).

Yasin Temel, neurosurgeon at MUMC/FHML
Ten years ago you won the Young Investigator Award. You were 28 at the time. In the meantime you have become a professor, have won a number of other awards and have been nominated for an election of, yes it’s true, young scientists.
There is a modest smile, accompanied by a “yoo-hoo”, at the other end of the telephone line.
Do you feel like a science talent?
Absolutely not. What I want most, is to do what is right for science and society. I am not looking for personal success; I don’t feel like I own knowledge. You collect knowledge, share it with others. Knowledge is crucial to getting on in research.
Originality is one of the criteria for being nominated; how original is your research?
It is certainly original as well as socially relevant. We work very closely with patients. They come to us with a problem, we translate that into a research question and then we investigate it. We use this knowledge to provide patients with better help. I treat patients with neurodegenerative illnesses, such as Parkinson’s disease. We try to reduce the main symptoms, such as the tremors, but we don’t deal with the origin of the disease. I made this choice intentionally; I work on the therapy side. We try to regulate the distorted signals sent by the brain by carrying out minor but complex operations. We do so with electric stimulation. Using a pacemaker, which patients carry on their chest, signals are sent through a wire to specific parts of their brain.
What do you hope to have achieved in ten years’ time?
Our treatment works, but I would like to improve the technique, and make the treatment more patient-friendly. I would also like to treat other symptoms, which we cannot treat properly at the moment, such as Parkinson’s patients falling.
One of the prizes (in addition to €1,500 and an award) is a set of scientific books. Do you have time to read?
Certainly, but it depends on the content of the books. I read a lot of professional literature, scientific and specific.

Tamar Sharon, philosopher at FASoS
Four years ago you moved from Israel to Maastricht for a postdoc job. After that you received a Rubicon grant and a Veni grant and now you’re nominated for this new award. Do you feel like you’re in an upward spiral?
Yes, it’s great. Ever since coming to Maastricht it feels like my research has just taken off. And the recognition and funding keeps pushing it forward. I’m very grateful. I feel proud about this particular nomination – for a science and technology magazine – because I’m a philosopher. It’s good for the field. The work of philosophers often seems very abstract and distant from people’s everyday concerns, but my current research is about self-tracking devices (like step counters and health apps) that allow us to monitor our health. I’m interested in how people experience this personalized health care technology in their daily lives, and how it affects our broader understandings of responsibility and autonomy.
What do you think of your competitors in the Top 25 list?
I had a quick look, I’m impressed. It’s a very tough competition. Do you know what’s funny? As a PhD in Israel I had a subscription to the New Scientist. I loved it, and used it to keep up-to-date about innovations in science and technology. When I left Israel I had to end my subscription, and I wrote them to tell them how much I enjoyed the magazine, but that I wouldn’t have a stable address for some time.
Do you feel like a talent?
That’s embarrassing! I’m very passionate about my research. It’s the combination of philosophical thinking and concrete ‘dirty’ technology.
What do you want to achieve within ten years?
Oh, well, I’m ambitious. I want to become a professor. There are so many different research projects I have in my head that fit together. I would like to have a group of people working with me on them.
One of the prizes (in addition to €1,500 and an award) is a set of scientific books. Do you still have time to read them?
I read a lot. It sometimes feels almost unfair: as a humanities scholar who works on technology, I have to understand science, technology, politics, economy, I have to put it in a historical perspective, et cetera. Sometimes I would like to have one focus [laughing].

 

The new competition is an initiative of the Dutch popular science magazine New Scientist and aims to provide an incentive for young scientists. You can vote until 7 September (www.newscientist.nl/talent). The final winner (votes from the public and the opinion of the jury count equally for the result) will be made known on 24 September.

 
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