Matthias Hohmann, PhD Student

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Matthias Hohmann, PhD Student

Hometown: Lübeck, Germany

Affiliation: Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, IMPRS for Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience

What are you working on?

I am developing assistive systems for people who are completely paralyzed. In the final stage of their disease, these people are trapped inside their motionless body while being fully conscious. We try to capture the only thing they have left – their thoughts – and translate them into meaningful commands to control a computer. Our goal is to give back some of the life quality and autonomy they have lost due to their disease. We believe that such a system needs to be affordable, reliable, and easy-to-use. Together with patients in various stages of the disease, I am building a user-friendly system that meets all of those criteria.

Why is it interesting?

Most people in this field have a background in computer science or engineering, which lead to great technical achievements, however the user was rarely taken into account. I have a background in neuropsychology – to me, a great system is developed through a combination of sophisticated technology, neurological expertise, and an understanding of human behavior, especially when it comes to people in difficult life situations. I am very excited to work at this intersection.

What do you like most about being a scientist?

The freedom to create value without the need to be profitable. The patients that we work with suffer from a condition that is quite rare and complex, so companies have little interest in helping with it ­ – the target population is just too small to be very profitable. As a researcher, I have the privilege to help those people without the need to keep a business model in mind.

What motivates you?

I want my ideas to have a positive impact on the life quality for people in need. My current environment allows me to pursue that goal, knowing that everything we discover, and every patient we work with, will contribute to improving many lives.

Your favourite thing outside of science?

I enjoy photography and design. My work allows me to meet inspiring people around the globe, and I make sure that my camera is always with me to capture those memories.

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