Professor Michael P. Hughes
Director of Biomedical Enginering, University of Surrey, UK
I grew up on a tiny island. Holyhead isn't even in island off the coast of Britain - it's off the coast off another island (Anglesey) off the coast of Britain. Great Britain itself is referred to as "the mainland", which always amuses people from Europe. There wasn't much to do if you're not interested in fishing or climbing, so I used to lose myself in science; I particularly loved Carl Sagan's TV series Cosmos, which was ostensibly about astronomy but also included physics, biology, chemistry and philosophy - and most importantly, treated them as if they were the same thing. It sparked a real interest in cell biology for me, but this was the 80s and there were recessions, so I chose to specialise in something where there would be clear job opportunities, and so studied electronics to become an engineer.
Then, when I was choosing a college, I attended an open day for the electronics department at Bangor University (then the University College of North Wales). Part of the tour included the research labs, where someone talked about their work on bioelectronics, how the nose worked as a sensor, how neurons act like computers, and a lightbulb switched on. This was it - a way of combining electronics, chemistry, physics and cell biology. I was hooked. When I had to choose two degrees, they were both at Bangor. Four years later, I took a final year project with the head of the Institute for Molecular and Biomolecular Electronics, Prof Ron Pethig, in 1991 on a subject called dielectrophoresis (DEP). Thirty years later I'm still doing it; the MEng was followed by a PhD supervised by Ron at Bangor and co-supervised by Peter Gascoyne, with whom I spent six months at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, which was followed by a three-year postdoc with Hywel Morgan in Glasgow.
In 1999 I was appointed as a Lecturer in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Surrey in Guildford, near London. Here I developed my DEP work alongside existing work on neural implants. I was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2004, Reader in 2006 and finally Professor in 2008, when I also assumed the Directorship of the Centre for Biomedical Engineering. During that time I acted as Editor in Chief of IEEE Transactions on Nanobioscience for six years and Senior Editor for a further three, founded two companies, and become the most prolific publisher of papers on DEP.
What still motivates me is still the search for new things in the intersection between physics, electronics, chemistry and biomedicine, which my group continues to explore. There's plenty more to look for, and it still feels like we're at the start of the journey.
Centre for Biomedical Engineering
School of Mechanical Engineering Sciences
University of Surrey
Surrey GU2 7XH
Tel: +44 1483 686775