The first time Julie Aitken saw the jumble of squiggly lines tracking the electrical impulses inside her husband’s brain, they looked like old friends.
At that point, Aitken had spent decades as a geophysicist staring at seismic data, her own sets of jagged lines made by shooting sound waves deep into the earth. Rather than finding oil, the lines from the electroencephalogram (EEG) performed on her husband were supposed to explain why his memory was short-circuiting.
The diagnosis turned out to be a mild form of epilepsy, but doctors needed four EEGs to get there, leaving Aitken wondering if her work experience could have helped them get it right on the first try.
“I thought if we could clean up the signal we could make things more obvious for doctors, neuroscientists, psychiatrists, whoever,” said Aitken, 58, who’s now part of a team working at a brain lab at the University of Calgary. “The thing that really blows me away is that the frequency of seismic and the frequency of EEGs are exactly the same.”
By taking out the noisy parts of an EEG — the frequencies that clutter a reading — Aitken believes doctors will be able to see more clearly the patterns in the data that really matter.
If she’s right, it could help with diagnosing epilepsy, dementia, tumours and even depression. What’s more, her early-stage theories, if they hold up for EEGs, could also work for ultrasounds, MRIs and CT scans.
Beyond medicine, her work is also a ray of hope for other geophysicists, who need all the good news they can find right now.
Thousands of oilpatch jobs lost
“This round of layoffs, this downturn, geophysicists have been more affected than anyone else,” said Marian Hanna, a former president of the Canadian Society for Exploration Geophysicists (CSEG).
Even amid thousands of other lost oilpatch jobs, the plight of geophysicists is now an example of how abruptly an entire profession can find itself on the outside looking in.
It might also…