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Student engineering mind-controlled prosthetics

Chris Aasted

Chris Aasted is developing a way to use light waves to read brain activity. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Chris Aasted was one of those children who could be counted on to take things apart, just to see how they work.

At 24, he’s turned to putting things together, to see if they work.

As a graduate student at DU, Aasted is working closely with Rahmat Shoureshi, dean of DU’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, to develop new biomedical technologies that use brainwaves to manipulate electronic prosthetic limbs.

Aasted, who grew up in Niwot, Colo., did his undergraduate studies at the Colorado School of Mines, where Shoureshi was working. While he was more focused on mechanical and systems engineering, Aasted says Shoureshi drew him to biomedics, offering him a place on his research team there. And when Shoureshi left to take a leadership position at DU, Aasted says he was eager to follow him and continue work on a master’s degree in mechatronics systems engineering. This past fall, he embarked on his doctoral studies, again working with Shoureshi.

Shoureshi calls Aasted an independent, dependable “problem-solving engineer” who isn’t afraid of challenges.

“With his calm personality and tenacity, Chris is an ideal graduate student who can take complex projects and create an effective approach to solving them,” Shoureshi says.

The current project, funded by a three-year, $300,000 National Science Foundation grant, charges Shoureshi and Aasted with developing a way to use light waves to read brain activity. The resulting technology will allow an amputee to control an electronic prosthesis with just a thought, all without the risk of undergoing brain surgery. The entire device would be located outside the skull, offering a less expensive brain interface that patients can easily learn to use.

The work at DU has been challenging, Aasted says, pushing him to focus not just on electronic and mechanical systems, but also on human physiology.

When he completes his doctorate, Aasted sees himself working in industrial or government research laboratories.

“This is a very intense application of technology,” Aasted says of his work. “I’ve always thought of engineering as the way to apply technology to solve real problems. This is a new way of doing that.”

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