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“Research is not as abstract as I thought”

Despite offering exciting career prospects, the disciplines of medicine and technology are nowhere to be found in school syllabuses. However, pupils have the opportunity to take a peek into this world within the scope of an interdisciplinary project on magnetic field sensors that can be used to measure cardiac activity.

Student Cara Broß
© Christin Bald

Pupils can learn how to detect abnormal heart signals by working with the heart simulator. PhD student Cara Broß developed the set-up together with researchers from the CRC 1261 as a component of a three-part school module


Time to leave the school behind for the lab: last summer, pupils from an upper secondary school in Gettorf visited the Faculty of Engineering. They were then keen to describe their initial impressions of research work and their comments included the following: “I didn’t know that different disciplines worked so closely together”, “you can really try out a lot of things and develop your own abilities,”, “research is not as abstract as I thought”. These visits, together with a lecture held at the school, are components of a multi-part module that has been developed by scientists from the Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) 1261 “Magnetoelectric Sensors: From Composite Materials to Biomagnetic Diagnostics”. Their goal? To offer insights into magnetic measurement of cardiac current flows, as well as the day-to-day activities of researchers.

This also appealed to teachers of subjects such as physics or biology, who were keen to show their pupils some real-world applications alongside the theory conveyed during lessons. After all, cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in Germany. Electrocardiograms (ECGs) are still being used to measure heart signals. “However, we are now looking to combine this with special sensors that can record magnetic signals. This might then enable us to detect certain heart diseases more reliably,” commented Professor Eckhard Quandt, CRC spokesperson, explaining one objective of the interdisciplinary research group.

Student teacher Cara Broß was responsible for preparing this topic for the school in close cooperation with Professor Gerhard Schmidt, signal processing expert at the CRC, as well as doctoral researchers. Within the scope of her Master's thesis, she developed experiments and then tested these with school classes at the Kiel Science Factory. “The pupils basically work their way along the CRC chain, addressing the same questions as the researchers,” explains Broß. Which materials are suitable for the concept employed by these sensors? What structure and design do the sensors require? What is the most effective way to read out heart signals?

Based on these experiments, Broß has produced a new set-up for use in schools. She is now a PhD student at the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education (IPN) and has developed a heart simulator together with CRC members from the Faculties of Medicine and Engineering. The plastic upper body, whose shape is based on the human body, uses a coil to emit various magnetic signals that resemble those of a human heart. The signals are recorded using a magnetic field sensor and then displayed on a computer monitor. After an introduction to diagnostic techniques, the aim is for the pupils to detect anomalies such as auricular fibrillation in the simulated heart activities. Following the lecture and visits to the laboratory, the heart simulator represents the third component in the interdisciplinary school module of the CRC 1261.

Ilka Parchmann, Education Professor at the IPN, is investigating the effect of these measures together with Dr Carolin Enzingmüller, Head of the Outreach Project at the CRC: “Our long-term goal is to get schools and universities networking more closely with one another. This is why we are placing so much emphasis on providing scientific support and guidance for activities of this kind in Kiel.” After all, based on her experience, they not only enhance teaching, but also deliver added value in research. “It is exciting to try and explain the work we do in a way that pupils can understand,” commented electrical engineer Gerhard Schmidt. “We can then also provide stimulus for the researchers of the future.”

More information: http://info.sfb1261.de

Julia Siekmann

Sensors for magnetic cardiac current flows

The Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) 1261 “Magnetoelectric Sensors: From Composite Materials to Biomagnetic Diagnostics” has received around €11 million in sponsorship from the German Research Foundation (DFG) since 2016. More than 50 scientists from the fields of materials science, physics, electrical engineering and medicine are engaged in research on highly sensitive magnetic field sensors here. Unlike electrical measurement methods such as the ECG (electrocardiogram), magnetic field sensors would be capable of measuring cardiac or brain currents contactlessly without electrodes (magnetocardiograms or magnetoencephalograms). In future, this could then for example simplify (long-term) investigations. (jus)