Shoreline student John Brew presented his Honors research project, “Analysis of Future Trends in Neural Recording,” at the University of Washington’s annual Undergraduate Research Symposium on Fri., May 15.
Brew’s project uses past trends to predict when future milestones in technological advances might occur in brain computer interfaces.
The honors student was one of over 1,000 undergraduates presenting research projects on a wide array of topics at the prestigious symposium, and he was the first current SCC student to participate in the event. Alumni have participated in the past, including recent alum Sean Prather who presented a research project on gun violence and legislation at this year’s symposium.
“I applied to present at the event because I thought it would help push me further,” said Brew. “I just wanted to find out how well I knew my work and how well I could defend it.”
According to Brew, the symposium was a success despite the stress of presenting. “I talked about my project to two actual neuroscientists, so that was great,” Brew said. “And I also got to run it past a statistician. So it was successful for me in that it forced me to be able to explain my work to a wide group of people.”
The topic of neural recording has been of special interest to Brew since his mother passed away from a cerebral aneurism when he was 14. “Since then, I’ve always wanted to know more about how the brain works,” Brew said.
Though it’s been top of mind, the path Brew took to translating his interest into a career has been long and winding.
“I’ve been to 8 or 9 different colleges or universities throughout my educational career,” Brew said. “It took me awhile to figure out what I wanted to do and was good at when I was younger.”
The career path he settled on during his first college stint was as a Boeing engineer, where he spent 30 years working on (testing and designing) Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) aircraft.
Then in 2003 he started reading about brain computer interfaces and the work being done to measure signals in the brain. “When I read that I thought, ‘hey, that’s what I do. I measure signals. I could do that work too.’”
It still took him ten more years to get around to deciding to apply what he’d learned in engineering to brain waves, but he finally did so with the encouragement of a friend. And that’s when Shoreline came on his radar.
While Brew obviously had a handle on the engineering concepts behind neural recording, he realized he would need to study psychology, biology and chemistry to make the career shift.
So this classified-level Boeing employee with a Master’s degree came back to school for the first time since 1993.
“The first quarter being back in the educational environment took a little adjusting for me,” Brew said, “but now it’s not an issue at all. I’m always the oldest person in my classes, but that’s never been a problem. And I’ve gotten to meet a lot of great and interesting people and the learning environment has helped get me re-energized.”
Brew added that the “teachers here at Shoreline are world class. They’re comparable to the best teachers I’ve had at any college or university I’ve been to.”
One instructor in particular who was helpful in guiding Brew is Shoreline biology professor, Dr. Kira Wennstrom.
“I took an animal biology class from her and asked a lot of questions. Based on my curiosity, she suggested I take the Honors program and when I got in, she helped me refine my research question and acted as my advisor on the project.”
After spending a school year working on his project through the Honors program, Brew has found that research suits him. “It’s kind of cool to have the ability to advance technology,” he said, “and have that technology hopefully provide useful applications for people and their lives.”
So what’s next for Brew, who’ll be graduating from Shoreline this spring? “I’m hoping to go to UW Bothell for a year to get more biology under my belt, and then apply to graduate school for neural research,” he said.
You can see Brew, along with the rest of the 2015 Honors class, present the findings of their research projects this Wed., June 3 in the PUB Quiet Dining Room from 12:30-3 p.m.