Meet young Leeds engineer Orla Gilson!

Twenty-four year-old Orla Gilson is studying for a PhD at University of Leeds, a key UTC Leeds sponsor, working on a medical project to improve rehabilitation after stroke.

You did an engineering degree at university – what was that like?
I came from Oxford to Leeds to study a four year Masters’ degree in Mechatronics and Robotics and I really enjoyed it. There was lots of coding and hands on work – both in individual and group projects. I was really interested in how engineering can help people so I chose a medical project in my fourth year and built a wearable device for the visually impaired. It was a vest you wore with sensors on it that would vibrate if there were objects in front of you. The aim was to enable visually impaired people to walk down a street without using a white stick. The current fourth year students are working on it now to improve it.

What are you doing for your research?
I’m building a wearable device for stroke patients who have lost movement in their arm, which often happens. It’s an exoskeleton that the stroke patient wears on their arm. There are sensors on the other arm which can control how the exoskeleton moves, so the patient can mirror the movement of the healthy arm. It means that patients can control their own physiotherapy. It doesn’t replace the need for physiotherapists, but it means that one physiotherapist can help more patients. It also means that patients at home who can’t travel to hospital can still do their physiotherapy.

How is your PhD going?
I’m now 14 months into the PhD and it’s going really well. In the first year I was doing a lot of research looking at what other people in this field had done so far. Now I’m going into hospitals and working with patients and physiotherapists. I want my work to be something that medical professionals actually want and will definitely use.

What do you like about engineering?
There is so much to engineering, not just cars. If you want to do something useful and help people, engineering is for you. It’s hard work and you do have to be passionate. It’s a shame that engineering is not explored more at school, there’s usually just science and maths. Teaching what engineering is from an early age would help.

What do you enjoy most about what you’re doing?
What I most enjoy is the opportunity to be so creative in such a useful way. I’m inventing something that people can use in their lives. I’m constantly thinking, “What will more people want to use to give them a better quality of life?”. Plus it’s such a great atmosphere here at the University of Leeds. There are so many people who are experts in their field who can help and encourage. There is an opportunity to become an expert in your own field – that’s what I’m aiming for.

You can join UTC Leeds in Y10 or Y12. Apply online now
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