After studying an MEng in Artificial Intelligence and Cybernetics and winning several awards, including the Chancellor's Award and the award for the Best Performing Student, Maitreyee Wairagkar decided to stay at the University of Reading to pursue a PhD.
Maitreyee conducts her doctoral research in the Biomedical Engineering area of the School of Biological Sciences; as such, she enjoys frequent opportunities to have contact with the large and diverse community of researchers within the School.
“I was fascinated by the multidisciplinary and cutting-edge research conducted at Reading."
Maitreyee's area of research is Brain Computer Interfaces (BCI), a new technology that allows us to control computers and devices via our brain waves. She is currently developing a BCI that can be controlled just by thinking of different movements, and is focusing on decoding brain signals to understand the patterns related to those movements.
BCI technology can be very useful for people with severe movement and communication impairing disabilities like tetraplegia or locked-in syndrome, as it allows them to communicate by controlling computers directly with their thoughts. Maitreyee is really excited about this work and how it can help people with disabilities.
“For example, it is possible to control a wheelchair simply by thinking about moving your right hand to make it turn right, or thinking about moving your left hand to make it turn left."
The laboratory at Reading in which Maitreyee is based is one of the few in the world with the specific state-of-the-art equipment she needs to conduct her BCI research.
The excellent research facilities combined with collaborating with a range of expert staff in the Department, has prompted many intriguing discussions and has helped Maitreyee to find the synergies between different areas and to develop a broader vision for her research.
Maitreyee is extremely passionate about her research and devotes time to telling others about what she is doing and how it can change lives.
“I participate in a lot of science outreach and public engagement activities where I perform live demonstrations and people can try my BCIs for themselves. I particularly enjoyed working on the BCI that was featured in The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures and our live demos in the Science Museum and The Royal Institution."
The advice Maitreyee would give any first year PhD student is to make the most of the opportunity.
“There are probably as many failures as successes, but it is exhilarating to discover something new that no one else in the world has discovered before, publish papers and perform exciting experiments."
Maitreyee has the ambition to continue her research in BCI after her PhD, and to bring the technology out of the laboratories and make it commercially available. BCI is the technology of the future, and she wants to be at the forefront of making this new technology accessible to everyone.