The Oregon State University Honors College encourages students to take their studies beyond the classroom and make an impact on the greater community. Third-year mechanical engineering student and recent Goldwater Scholarship nominee Sean Bullock is doing just this through his medical start-up company and his community-centric musical endeavors.
Engaging in research has been a priority for Sean since the beginning of his undergraduate education. He joined the College of Engineering’s associate professor Ravi Balasubramanian’s robotics and human control systems lab, where he researches arm and hand orthopedic implants. “It’s been a great introduction into the world of science and research. And that’s an area that I’d like to explore further. I think a lot of the skills I’ve learned in this lab have also translated into my other experiences as well,” he says. Sean looks specifically at how implants interact with tendon structures, and he hopes his work will eventually help people suffering from hand paralysis or lack of function. While he acknowledges that having a job in addition to schoolwork can be challenging, Sean believes that it is worth your time if it is something that you’re passionate about, especially in the case of research opportunities like his.
Outside of his lab research, Sean has been developing a new technology through his start-up, Cortava Neurotechnology. Growing up in Grants Pass, he was drawn to science fiction, especially depictions of robots and technology and their intersections within society. This interest inspired Sean to create a start-up, which develops wearable technologies. His lab work has been integral in helping him develop this idea. He noticed that the potential of transcranial electrotherapy stimulation, a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease,in which electrotherapy is used to help stimulate neural connections, was limited by a poor user interface and the lack of diverse applications. Driven to improve upon this, Sean, along with two other students, started to develop a wearable device and an app to improve the usability and accessibility of the technology. The team, now consisting of seven students, recently participated in InventOregon, a competition designed to highlight young innovators and entrepreneurs, winning third place. They plan to use the prize money to conduct their first test run.
Cortava Neurotechnology’s team members all come from different disciplines, showing how multiple viewpoints and expertise can contribute to success. “We’re utilizing skills from electrical engineering, computer science, graphic design, business, marketing and mechanical engineering,” Sean says. “I think it’s been a really great opportunity to bring people together.”
A strong advocate for cultivating both scientific and creative expression, Sean is also passionate about music. He learned to play violin at a young age and still plays. Sean feels that he can express his emotions and connect with others through music. Although he is not pursing a degree in music, he still makes playing a priority in his daily life. He performs frequently in a local chamber group at the Majestic Theater. Their most recent performance, “A Night in Prague,” featured music from Czech composers.
Sean credits his success to having the confidence to approach professors about his interests and goals, and he urges other students interested in research to do the same: “At the end of the day, professors are passionate about their stuff. And they love it when other people are passionate. If there’s somebody whose research you admire, or that you want to meet, just reach out to them. They’ll probably be a lot more open to talking with you than you might assume.”
By Katelyn Maloney, Honors College student writer