Lecturer in bioengineering, Cecile Perrault tells us how maths and physics can be used to understand the human body and that you don’t have to study medicine to unravel its mysteries.
The body is an intricate, elegant, very complex machine made of equally complex and elegant parts.
I always thought I wanted to become a medical doctor. I like biology, and I like the mysteries of life. The human body is just so amazing. I just assumed that the only way to study life and its secrets was through medicine. I was quite wrong…
I received my French Baccalaureat (the high school diploma in France) with specialisation in sciences and my family moved to the US, so I started my university there. I started looking at the medical school curriculum and I remember thinking “no maths? no physics? no way !”. I had never realized until then that I really enjoyed solving mathematics riddles. And that physics made sense. Looking back now, I was an engineer early on. I wanted to repair machines that broke down. I wanted to look for the piece that was jamming the washing machine. I liked assembling stuff. I enjoyed creating solutions. Engineering was the challenge I was looking for, and hearing “engineering is not for girls” made it even more appealing. I was going to show them!
At the time I realised that medicine was not my calling, and that engineering might be the solution, a new field was coming of age: biomedical engineering. I was lucky enough to be in one of the first universities offering this degree and I took that opportunity. It combined all I wanted: maths, physics, biology. It was a challenging degree, and not a lot of people understood what it was about. But I liked it, and I was good at it. It applied engineering principles to the human body. It made me think of biology in a different way. The body is an intricate, elegant, very complex machine made of equally complex and elegant parts. I am still amazed today by all we have left to discover.
Living and working in Sheffield
I arrived in Sheffield one year and a half ago. Since my early years at the university, I had the opportunity to work in amazing places: Florida, Montreal (at McGill University, one of the best universities of the world), and Barcelona (at IBEC, one of the best institutes of Spain). I met my husband, and had two sons. We met wonderful people and discovered many cultures. We thought that Sheffield might be a quiet, grey and old place after all we had been. But Sheffield has given us our share of great surprises. The people are warm and kind, the peak district and all the footpaths around the city enchant us. The university provides top-notch education, pursues high quality, international research, and everyone is so driven by a passion for research that I have been able to email strangers and they would answer rapidly to invite me over to discover their research. It is a wonderful environment, and I really believe that Sheffield deserves to be more known throughout the world.
Now I hope that I gave you an interesting insight into the life of an engineer and researcher. It is a challenging life, which requires sacrifices and hard work, not only from me but even most importantly from my husband. Yet nothing beats that great feeling in the morning of going to work to do what you love doing. And looking back to all we were able to discover and achieve, there are no regret for taking the path less traveled.
Find out more about Cecile here.