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Student Award Winner 2021: Mathieu Simon

Please introduce yourself. What is your background?

I started with an apprenticeship as a poly-mechanic because I wanted to learn how to build mechanical assemblies as watches. During the apprenticeship, I found interest in the study of forces acting on structures, so I continued with a Bachelor in mechanical engineering at the University of Applied Science in Fribourg. During these years, I discovered the taste of studying and learning, I performed my Bachelor project at University College London which gave me an insight into basic research. Then, I followed with a master in biomechanical engineering at the University of Bern with a major in biomechanics because I really liked the idea of applying mechanical concepts to the human body to understand its functioning and find solutions for diseases and disabilities. At the same time, I was working for a start-up in the biomedical field. Finally, I performed my master thesis in the group of musculoskeletal biomechanics at ARTORG which confirmed my passion for basic research. And here I am.

You have received the SSBE award. Please briefly describe the project.

The project treats the mechanical properties of the human distal tibia. Due to the pandemic situation in 2020, it has been separated into two parts. The first computational part made it possible to perform the work at home when the situation improved, the experimental part could begin, see Figure 1. For the computational part, high resolution scans of 120 healthy and 50 OI patients were analyzed. Bone architecture and stiffness relations (called “fabric-elasticity relationships”) were compared between groups. For the experimental part, compressive properties (called “compressive failure behavior”) of 25 tibiae were analysed. Samples were scanned at high resolution, tested in compression until failure, and scanned again. The high-resolution scans were used for numerical simulation analysis and results were compared with the experiment. Finally, a qualitative assessment of fracture localization was performed using pre/post-test scans and compared to numerical simulation prediction.

What does the SSBE award mean to you?

This award is aimed to recognize high standard research for a substantial contribution to the biomedical engineering community. For me, this award means multiple things. First, it helps different groups and different work areas to be more visible in this very interdisciplinary field. Second, it is very valuable for a student to be recognized by an expert committee in the field. I hope that in the future, this award will motivate students even more and increase the popularity of SSBE among biomedical engineering students.

Is this project still active? What are the goals?

Yes sure. In a first time step, we continued the investigations on bone architecture and stiffness relationships. A more complete statistical analysis completed the work showing no difference in architecture and stiffness relationships between Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI) and healthy trabecular bone. This means that the numerical analysis scheme based on high resolution scans used for healthy patients could be used for bone strength estimation of OI patients as well. This result led to a publication in Bone – the manuscript was recently accepted. The experimental project showed promising results at the end of the thesis and today investigations are still ongoing. The objective here is to assess the capacity of our numerical simulation scheme to predict fracture localization. This second part could lead to another publication in a journal.

Did the award have an impact on your career? 

To be fair, not that much… for the moment. For sure, our group and I were proud to receive it but at this time I already had continued with a PhD within the musculoskeletal biomechanics group. On the other hand, I guess it confirms and reinforces the choice of my supervisor to hire me as a PhD student. Maybe, I hope, this award will help me in the future.

What kind of work are you currently doing? How is it related to your studies? 

I am continuing with a PhD in biomedical engineering. The project that I am working on stays in the biomedical engineering field and is very ambitious. The main idea is to quantify the effect of ageing on the properties of the proximal femur. This project, for which we are looking for one more PhD student, will help to increase or at least to quantify the accuracy of the hFE scheme we use for bone strength estimation. Combined with other projects of our group, the final goal is to perform an accurate risk fracture assessment of the proximal femur. My colleagues are realizing great work and it is pleasant to see how multiple projects can be combined to help clinicians and, ultimately, patients. I can’t wait to see the results of these different studies!

What is special about your current work?  

It depends on what do you call special. From my previous experiences, I guess this is the first time that I work a such an interdisciplinary field. We work with people having a very broad spectrum of backgrounds, origins, and cultures. This helps to have a different point of view according to the subject and seeing things in their globality. Other specialities of my current activity would be to work with human samples. This requires specific care of the samples both according to ethics and safety. Another “special” thing, is the fact that we are working with many different institutes and enterprises. These entities allow us to perform work in a very broad range from basic research to clinical application or even prototype development and testing. This ends up with complete studies having a significant impact on the biomedical engineering community.

Where do you see yourself in five years? 

In five years, who knows? What is certain is that I want to continue in this challenging, exciting and interesting field of biomedical engineering. I know that one day, I want to teach, try to transmit my passion for this amazing art which is the application of engineering to understand the optimized structures provided from evolution. In the meaning time, I know that I am very attracted by the academic field but some of my good teachers also had experience from the industry and I think it could also be a very good experience. So, nothing sure at the moment. Today, I just want to do my best for the current project I am working on I and will see the opportunities next.

Is there something that you would like to convey to the SSBE members? 

Thank you, for providing the opportunity to students and researchers to present their work. The idea to have an organization at the national level contribute, from my point of view, to help at building professional networks, to see what kind of projects are undergoing in Switzerland and find potential collaborations between education, research, manufacturing and even politics. I found it necessary as biomedical engineering is a very promising field at the national and international levels.


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