Max Burgess: An A-Level student’s one week research secondment with the MetaboLight team

I am an A-level student who has just finished year 12 and am studying maths, further maths, physics and computer science. Once I finish my A-levels I want to go on to study computer science or electronic engineering at university.


My first impression was mostly how friendly everyone was. I was also surprised how all this research had been done by such a small team. I think I only saw 8 or 9 people my whole time there (maybe there were more and I am forgetting some people).


On the Monday I met Ilias, he gave me a brief overview of what fNIRS was and how it worked, and also showed me a prototype for a new smaller version of CYRIL that was early in development. After this, Gemma and Isabel showed me the original Cyril and explained how it worked. After this Josh showed me some of the code behind the simulations that he had made. Then on the Tuesday I watched Zuzana do a phantom experiment with Cyril. The phantom was a tub filled with a blood-water mixture. This was used as it mimics the composition of someone’s brain. After this I started the investigation into the U parameter (metabolic demand) on the simulations. On the Wednesday Fred showed me a machine that is similar to Cyril except instead of measuring relative amounts of light going in and coming out it could measure the total number of photons in absolute terms. I then continued the investigation into the U parameter. Then on the Thursday I did more coding with Josh and finished the investigation into the U parameter. On the Friday I went to the Institute of cognitive neuroscience and Paola showed me a fNIRS headset that they use when they do the experiments out on the street.


The thing that impressed me the most was all the equipment. I was also impressed by the fact that if they needed a certain piece of equipment or a piece of software they mostly made it themselves from scratch.


I learnt so much as before I came I didn’t know anything about fNIRS or the anatomy of the brain but after I feel like a have a pretty solid grasp on how fNIRS works and I also learnt some of the anatomy of the brain.


I don’t know what I plan to do next. Before I spent my week at MetaboLight I was pretty certain that I wanted to do computer science but the engineering side was so interesting that I am now thinking about possibly doing electronic engineering.


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