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Research on Engineering



Data-driven simulation for computer-assisted surgery

with Stéphane Bordas

Originally a civil engineer, Stéphane Bordas, in charge of the Computational Sciences Research Priority area at the University of Luxembourg, has been focusing on the field of Computational Mechanics with applications to aerospace engineering and bio-engineering.

One of the central goals of Stéphane’s research group is to enrich (prior) computational models with real-time (posterior) data acquired during the operation of the system. Being able to leverage this (posterior) data is fundamental to the simulation of surgical operations where it is ethically impossible to perform in vivo experiments on patients and, thus, the actual behaviour of human tissue can only be inferred from extracted data during the operation. Since 2008 the Frenchman has concentrated on developing methods for the simulation of surgical interventions, in particular those involving cutting, tearing, and needle insertion.

Stéphane is professor in the Department of Engineering at the University of Luxembourg. He heads the Legato Team which “builds intuitive and interactive platforms for computational mechanics problems which allow users to interact with their models and hence gain insights into unconventional and counter-intuitive phenomena.” He and his team are working together with the University of Cardiff, the French Research Institute for Computer Science and Automation in Lille and Strasbourg, as well as the University of Western Australia and Prof. Karol Miller. The ultimate goal is to give surgeons the opportunity to plan for complex interventions and to provide them with the best quality information to guide them during surgery.

More precise and more realistic than conventional methods

Stéphane stumbled across surgical simulation accidentally when he met a neurosurgeon in 2006. He then realised that computational mechanics could be strongly complementary to the computer science research which had been done in this field. Indeed, as far as training is concerned, “a surgeon classically learns by watching colleagues or through practical exercises on artificial tissue or on cadavers. Contrary to such approaches, the computer-based surgical simulations we have been developing have the potential to provide a clear measure of accuracy and uncertainty and thus to maximise the accuracy level for a given computational expense.”

Support from several research grants

Besides research funds from the (British) Royal Academy of Engineering and the Leverhulme Trust, Stéphane Bordas also received in 2012 the 1.35 million euros ERC Starting Grant to develop real-time simulators for soft tissue cutting aiming at surgical training. European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Project inCERT is currently being evaluated. The challenge in inCERT is to bring surgical simulation and assistance one step closer to patient-specificity. If this were possible, according to Stéphane Bordas, simulation could not only be used for training but also during surgery. “Whilst the use of generic data and organs is sufficient for training purposes, real interventions require data specific to the patient.” This is why the new project aims at learning to integrate as much as possible of the data gathered during the operation to enrich data, knowledge and assumptions availablea priori, before the operation begins. The surgeons could then be provided with warning mechanisms to avoid errors and such modelling systems could be used to drive and steer robotic-assisted surgery.


Laser technology, robotics and lean management with practical applications

with Peter Plapper

Peter Plapper has planned production lines in car manufacturing plants all over the world. Nowadays he passes this knowledge on to budding engineers in the University of Luxembourg’s Laboratory. Assembly robots, lean management and laser technology are his main fields – and there is a very good reason for this. “In practice these three subject areas are all very closely connected. Lasers are widely used for welding in the automotive industry, for example. Then there are robots on production lines and lean management is all about producing more efficiently. By focussing on these areas we can also help Luxembourg companies make even better products”.

A country where there are no rigid boundaries between industry and research

With this approach, Peter Plapper places priority on practical application, which is one of the cornerstones of the University of Luxembourg. This is particularly relevant for engineers who have the additional advantage of being able to find just the right partners to work with on the Laboratory’s doorstep. “As far as the automotive industry is concerned, Luxembourg has several leading companies to offer. Goodyear, for example, has two global innovation centres and one is here in Luxembourg. Also Delphi and IEE are both leading companies in their field. All these firms work closely with the University, and this collaboration is fast and uncomplicated thanks to our close proximity.”

In Peter Plapper’s opinion it is precisely these flexible boundaries between industry and research that make Luxembourg so interesting. Having no hang-ups on either side about working together drives innovation, and then there is another logical argument: “In engineering, research and industry cannot be separated from one another. When all is said and done, engineers always work for industry. Conversely, companies cannot survive without innovating. And innovation happens in laboratories.” This also means that the overall objective of the engineering profession can be achieved in the Grand Duchy which is: “to make changes and improvements to what we’ve already got”.

Making changes and improvements on a large and (supposedly) small scale

Making changes and improvements – for Peter Plapper this guiding principle holds true for both large as well as (supposedly) small-scale projects. “Routine in simple processes can have far-reaching negative outcomes. This is why making improvements can be so decisive in a competitive market.” Reason enough to spend one semester of a lean management course investigating how production of a hole puncher can be improved – this is, however, only one of the many aspects of studying engineering at the University of Luxembourg: “In our centre of excellence for laser technology, we’re developing new potential applications for using lasers as tools. And what’s more, we offer week-long courses in robotics for Masters students.”