In University, one of my Biomedical Engineering professors made a huge impression on me. It was in a class about modeling biomedical problems with electric circuits.
If the title of the course doesn’t make sense to you, here’s a quick explanation. Electric circuits are a good model for the study of systems in general, and Biomedical engineering is one example. You can use measurements from a biomedical system (for example, someone’s brain) and decide that this brain actually reminds you a lot of an electric circuit that you know. There are good electrical engineering techniques for solving electric circuits, so if you can create a model for a brain using a solvable electric circuit, you can understand the behavior of the brain (assuming your model is somewhat useful).
Obviously real life brains are damn complex. So they don’t tend to remind you of any electric circuit that you know. Not as a 4th year engineering student anyway. And this is where my teacher was getting to the interesting part.
The art in this business is creating the right model. Taking this complex brain, or kidney, or heart and turning it into something that looks more like this:
In order to do this you have to understand what you’re trying to model, and the big challenge here is being able to simplify the problem. Simplifying involves making lots of assumptions, but it also means you need to be able to separate the important parameters of the problem from those that can be safely ignored.
In order to make this more tangible to our class of engineers-to-be, the professor showed us the following Bull lithograph by Picasso. This is our brain:
Then he showed us another version:
And finally this one:
This is how some creativity in building your model can make a brain become a simple DC electric circuit.
Pablo Picasso created the eleven “Bull” lithographs in 1945. He depicts a bull in various levels of abstraction.
How difficult it is to be simple. Identify these critical lines, get rid of the rest, and still keep the bull.
Biomedical engineers use these principals to create models of biological systems. They decide what their measurements represent in the circuit (the blood pressure is current, the frog’s leg is load, artsy stuff like this) and they solve the circuit like good engineers. This allows them to study the behavior of biological systems and solve real life problems.
I think this is pretty amazing. I can also tell you it’s unbelievably applicable to everything in your life (isn’t simplicity wonderful).
I never got to practice Biomedical Engineering. When I finished my degree I started working in software and never went back. But working in automation kept me constantly occupied with this topic. Automation is all about finding the right model for problems and not getting lost in the details, and the more creative you are the better.
In Part 2 — finding the right model for DevOps and application delivery.
The credit goes to the wonderful Prof. Ofer Barnea from the Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering in Tel-Aviv University. Thank you :)
Sources for illustrations
- Picasso’s beautiful bull’s plates http://www.artyfactory.com/art_appreciation/animals_in_art/pablo_picasso.htm
- Illustration of simple electric circuit https://www.codrey.com/dc-circuits/what-is-an-electric-circuit/