By PGP Director, Sally Phelps
Mike Sullivan, class of 2013, was one of the last seniors to get a job offer just before commencement in the spring. But the job he ended up getting just may be one of the most fascinating that I've seen.
Mike is working closely with Dr. Robert Bishop. For over 33 years, Dr. Bishop has been founder and CEO of Beltronics, Inc. and founder of the newly created Eye-Deal Scanning, both located here in Needham, MA. At EYEdeal SCANNING, Mike and Robert are developing an instrument to measure eye topology for use in fitting scleral lenses to restore sight to those with damaged corneas. Such damage can occur from disease, or accidents such as explosions and fire. EYEdeal SCANNING does not manufacture scleral lenses, but companies that do find fitting of these lenses extremely complex and costly. Fitting is difficult because the lens must precisely match the curved shape of the patient's eye in the scleral region to be both comfortable and remain in place. Unfortunately, there is currently no means for measuring complete eye topology. As a result, fitting requires approximately two weeks during which a large set of trial lenses are iteratively evaluated on the patient's eye until one is found to fit. This is like walking into a shoe store, not knowing your size, having no means to measure your foot, and then trying on every shoe in the store until one fits. Eye-Deal SCANNING's product will, for the first time, automate the measurement process, resulting in a more accurate first-fit lens. This will greatly reduce cost, eliminate the complex fitting process and make these lenses globally available.
Mike is one of the main people working on developing the prototype for this government-funded project. The government was extremely interested in this technology because of the implications it has for soldiers who've suffered eye injuries in the war. Scleral lenses have been used to restore sight to American soldiers injured by bomb blasts during combat. Mike and Dr. Bishop recently presented their progress to General Elder Granger, who retired a few years ago after serving as the principal advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Defense on DoD health plan policy and performance. When Dr. Granger learned about the potential of this technology about two years ago, he was immediately interested and went to work lining up project funding.
Robert interviewed several Olin seniors and alumni for the position last spring, but he and Mike hit it off immediately. The skills he saw in Mike that he liked were his knowledge of Matlab, software programming and his passion for video gaming.
"I know it sounds crazy, but people interested in designing video games are excellent for this type of job," explained Dr. Bishop. "Designing video games can be complicated, and requires a unique mix of skills. It is these same skills that help Michael understand what's required to have good user interaction in a visual, software-based medium."
Mike finds it humorous that his Matlab experience was one of the things that got him the job. "I really didn't like Matlab at Olin - I just wasn't good at it. I didn't understand why we all had to learn it. So when I got here, I spent the first three days brushing up on Matlab. Now I am modeling with it all the time, plotting and graphing. It is such a powerful computational tool - I didn't realize all I'd be able to do with it."
According to Mike, he's always been more of a software person, in fact he has been programming since 7th grade. Now, in addition to using those skills, he finds himself dealing with all aspects of this project, including the hardware side. "I find I am using many of the tools I learned at Olin. For instance, in Non-Linear Dynamics and Chaos class, I learned how to rearrange plots and reprogram coordinate systems to display data in the way I now need to."
Once the prototype is finished and tested, Eye-Deal SCANNING will begin with the manufacturing, sales and marketing of their product. And as one of the key players on the project, our young alumnus is beautifully positioned to move it forward and to even begin to evaluate the product for other applications.
Mike considers himself fortunate to have found this opportunity. "To be working on a technology that will help restore sight to the blind is something I feel very passionate about." Could be because Mike, like his sister Katie (Olin Class of '10), is hearing-impaired, and thrilled that he has found an assistive technology where he can help make a difference for others.