Brooker interview

We asked authors, of our esteemed IET eBook publications, a series of 10 questions ranging from their career, body of work, challenges – to their ideas on how to get kids interested in math and science. Below you can read honest answers as the authors give an exclusive glimpse into their wide ranging thoughts.

Graham Brooker – Field Robotics Centre, University of Sydney

Brooker is the author of 'Introduction to Sensors for Ranging and Imaging' and 'Introduction to Biomechatronics', both titles were published under SciTech Publishing (an imprint of the IET).

Graham Brooker’s interest in biomedical engineering started back in the late 70s in his final year of an EE degree when he developed a myoelectric controlled rehabilitative exercise device using an early microprocessor. Unfortunately his proposal to continue the project as part of a postgraduate degree was curtailed by two years compulsory national service. Here he discovered an alternative passion – radar, and for 20 years his interest in biomedical engineering had to remain little more than a hobby, while he established a career as a radar design engineer. At the turn of the millennium he had the opportunity to move from industry to academia with the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney. Here, while completing a PhD, conducting research and lecturing in sensors, he was able to reestablish his biomedical credentials. In 2007 he had the opportunity to develop a course in Biomechatronics (mechatronic engineering with a biomedical flavor) which has been offered as a final year elective course to mechatronic and biomedical engineering students. Over the past few years, the notes that were developed for the course have evolved into this book.

 

What factors, passions, preferences, influences, etc. lead you down your current career path? In other words, why do you choose to do what you do and how did you get here?

I have always been interested in research and was all set to continue in the biomedical field after undertaking an honours thesis with our Phisiotherapy colleagues, back in 1978. However, I was called up to do two years of national service where I was introduced to radar systems. This became my passion for the next 25 years, first working in industry R&D in South Africa and later as a lecturer at the University of Sydney. I published my first book “Introduction to Sensors for Ranging and Imaging” which covers some of the interesting things that I learned during these 25 years. Recently I had the opportunity to reestablish my credentials in the biomedical field, and after developing a biomechatronics course and teaching it for a few years, published my second book “Introduction to Biomechatronics”. I am now in the enviable position of doing lots of things badly.

What do you find to be the most interesting or intriguing aspects of your work?

I work in the millimeter wave radar field, and I am still amazed that tiny amounts of power (much less than that used by the LED torch on your phone) can be used to obtain echoes from objects that are 3 km away. I also enjoy teaching and working with students as they often look at problems from a different perspective to mine, and that can be most illuminating.

Right now our country faces some challenges in getting kids interested in math and science and, as a result, careers such as engineering that depend on both. Do you have any thoughts on how to create a stronger interest in these areas?

It is all about passion. Not enough small children get to play with the right toys as they grow up. Every house needs to have an erector set and some basic electronic or robotic kits. In addition, use of the internet needs to change. Although it is the font of “all knowledge” it stops most people thinking for themselves and coming up with their own solutions. It also reduces focus and results in a more superficial approach to problem solving.

What is the primary focus of your current work?

I am working on a number of projects. In radar, I am looking at ways of making ultra low cost imaging systems that can see through dust and fog. From a biomedical perspective I am looking at stand-off methods of determining human affect (emotion), and fatigue. I am also in the middle of building a mannequin that will help train midwives and obstetricians to rotate foetal heads during the birthing process, to reduce the incidence of emergency caesarians.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face?

Too little time, too little money and too few students to help with all the projects I want to do.

What have been some of your most rewarding professional experiences

  • After working for 5 years on a fire-control radar, the first time that it locked on to and tracked a passing aircraft.
  • The first time I built a millimeter wave radar and saw target echoes on the oscilloscope
  • Getting a round of spontaneous applause when I finished teaching a course
  • Receiving the first copies of 'Introduction to Sensors'

Who are your heroes or people you look up to and admire?

There are a couple of real engineers/scientists who had a shot at doing everything. Leonardo da Vinci is one and Isambard Brunel is another. Thomas Edison is possibly in there as is Richard Feynman. I also have a lot of time for people who have come up with seminal new ideas, James Lovelock with Gaia and Jared Diamond with Guns, germs and Steel.

If you could wake up tomorrow morning knowing one thing that you don't know today, what would it be?

If I only found out one new thing every morning, it would be an empty day. However if it had to be one thing, I would really like to know whether life has evolved spontaneously somewhere else in the universe, or is our world unique.

If you could have any super hero power, what would it be and why?

The ability to sort out global climate change. I believe it is going to cause untold misery for billions of people and result in the mass extinction of a good number of species in the next hundred years. From a selfish perspective, I would like my grandchildren to enjoy a stable future.

Without giving too much away, what do you think is the biggest takeaway from your book?

In the sensors book, I am always pleased by the way it has made radar so easy to understand. With the biomechatronics book, I am gratified that it has been able to convey the incredible technological advances that have occurred to improve the quality of life of our ill and injured.