SensUs Interviews: Barry Fitzgerald

Question 1: Can you tell something about yourself? How are you involved with SensUs?

My name is Barry Fitzgerald and I'm a postdoctoral researcher based in the Process & Energy department of the 3mE faculty at TU Delft. My main research at TU Delft is focussed on the simulation of fluidized bed reactors containing non-spherical particles, which is of relevance for biomass energy production. I'm also interested in studying polymeric systems, collective motion in active systems such as birds and people, fluid dynamics and granular materials.

In 2016 I was asked to be the MC (Master of Ceremonies) for the 1st SensUs competition. For the 2017 I will once again be the MC. I'm delighted to have been asked to be a part of the event once again and I'm very much looking forward to the 2017 final.

Question 2: Can you tell something about your activities, such as your popular book: "Secrets of Superhero Science".

In addition to being a research scientist I'm a superhero enthusiast. I'm quite active in the area of scientific communication and outreach through my company BW Science, which I established in 2014. I've given hundreds of talks on superhero science at schools, universities, conferences, companies and public events such as Dutch Comic Con, Xmas Comic Con, Science Week Ireland, the Galway International Arts Festival, Delft International Festival of Technology and Studium Generale.

In 2016 I self-published my first book "Secrets of Superhero Science" in which I describe the fundamental science and advanced scientific research that could yield the superpowers of characters such as the Invisible Woman, Iron Man and Spider-Man in the future. I have also written a book about the science behind Santa Claus entitled "Secret Science of Santa Claus", which was published in October 2016.

In June 2017 I arranged and hosted the first ever symposium on superhero science for the Delft International Festival of Technology. The symposium was entitled "Secrets of Superhero Science". Speakers on genetic editing, regenerative medicine, exoskeletons, bio-art, bulletproof spider silk human skin and ethics spoke about how their work could lead to superpowers in the future.

Finally in June 2017 I established a brand new open access journal - "Superhero Science and Technology". The aim of the journal is to publish scientific papers from researchers who motivate their work by making reference to superheroes, supervillains, superpowers, the superhero films or the comic book stories. The first issue will be published in October 2017.

Question 3: How do you see your findings in the future?

In terms of scientific research at TU Delft my work on fluidized bed reactors has important implications for energy production in the future. With a greater emphasis now being placed on green and renewable energies it is imperative that we optimise the processes behind energy production. At TU Delft we are developing computer models to study how biomass particles, which are non-spherical, behave when fluidized by air. The more we know about the particle dynamics within a fluidized bed reactor the better as we can aim to optimise fluidization technologies to make them more efficient for energy production. Associate Professor Johan Padding of Process & Energy, 3mE, TU Delft, leads the research project and it is funded by a research grant from the European Research Council (ERC).

Superheroes are a huge part of my life and I'm very passionate about superhero science. I use superheroes as a platform to communicate complicated scientific concepts and theories. My aim is make science and engineering accessible, fun, interactive and interesting to everyone. It is essential that we as scientists and engineers communicate our findings to not only the academic community but also to the world at large. I hope that my books, talks, presentations, workshops and open access journal can help bridge this gap in communication.

Question 4: What is your vision about the future of healthcare?

The majority of scientists and engineers around the world are striving to design and develop technologies that will change our world for the better. These innovations could lead to improved transport systems, environmentally friendly energy production devices/methods, and of course, advancements in healthcare. I've spoken to a lot of researchers from varying disciplines based here in the Netherlands and abroad over the past year or so. In my opinion, each and every one of them is working on a research topic that could improve our society and make the world a healthier and safer place.

Using the superhero analogy, the real superheroes are those in medicine and science fighting diseases and developing solutions to help people deal with medical conditions. They should be commended for their effort and I have the utmost respect for them. However, like any superhero, they can't do it alone. With an ever increasing population and the resulting demands placed on the healthcare system, we need technologies or devices that allow the patient to help the medical practitioner.

Imagine a future where every household has an Iron Man-like suit in their homes. Instead of flying in the suit you step into the suit and it immediately performs a full analysis of your body and its functions thanks to a suite of non-invasive sensors. This data is instantly sent to your doctor, thus allowing your doctor to instantly make a diagnosis using the data while you remain at home. In effect the doctor can use the data to decide if you need any medication or if you need to travel to a hospital for more involved treatments.

Question 5: How can SensUs contribute in these developments?

Tony Stark's Iron Man suit contains a plethora of biosensors that monitor his body. These sensors have been called into action in films such as Iron Man 3 and Captain America: Civil War. The Iron Man suit represents the pinnacle of personalised medicine.

The development of biosensors for personalised use such as those used in the Iron Man suit needs a strong foundation and beginning. In my opinion a competitions like SensUs provides the perfect platform for the future generation of scientists and technology developers to innovate, create and think differently about solutions in molecular health sensing technologies. The demand for functional and purposeful wearable technologies is self-evident in modern society. While many of these technologies focus on providing the wearer with heart rate or blood pressure information, the possibility of advancing these wearable devices to provide practical measurements regarding other bodily functions is a highly attractive prospect. SensUs is excellently placed to provide an arena for the future pioneers and inventors of these technologies.

Question 6: What do you think of the SensUs concept and vision?

From the moment I heard about the SensUs competition I was impressed. After some students from the 2016 competition committee attended one of my "Secrets of Superhero Science" presentations I was approached by the students about the role of MC for the first competition. In our first meeting the students explained their idea for the event and the overall concept and vision for SensUs. After hearing the details of the event and SensUs I had no hesitation in accepting the role of MC, a role that I thoroughly enjoyed I might add.

Since that first competition in September 2016 I have actively promoted the competition and the importance of developing molecular biosensor technologies in my Superhero workshops throughout Ireland and the Netherlands. I use the Iron Man suit as a paradigm for the ultimate biosensor and highlight that the SensUs teams are walking the same path that Tony Stark would have walked in developing the sensors in the Iron Man suit. In addition to promoting SensUs at schools I've also spoken about the SensUs competition at Studium Generale, Dutch Comic Con, Xmas Comic Con, Dutch Science Week and Irish Science Week.

Put simply SensUs takes innovation and creativity to a new level by motivating the next generation of scientists, engineers and inventors to think differently about approaches towards health diagnostics. SensUs will undoubtedly make a difference, SensUs will inspire.