#BEhuman: Ophelia Johnson

#BEHuman (Bioengineering Human) is a series that profiles the academics, researchers and students that make up the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College. Our aim is to give you an insight into the ground-breaking work that takes place in the UK’s leading bioengineering department through the eyes of the fantastic bioengineers that are advancing research frontiers, solving life sciences-related problems and creating future leaders.


The next BEhuman to be profiled is Medical Device Design and Entrepreneurship MRes student Ophelia Johnson. Ophelia enjoys weightlifting and is currently working on creating a sensor suit that she can wear to the gym to track the quality of her workouts using muscle activation data.

How did you become a Bioengineer?
Helping people has always been a priority for me. I initially thought I would help change lives by becoming a medical doctor. During a shadowing experience early in my undergraduate career, I observed an orthopaedic surgery and found myself thinking more about ways to make the procedure more efficient than about the procedure itself. Could I develop a system to better organise the tools? Could I find a method for tracking the spread of bacteria to reduce the risk of infection? Could I improve the design of the surgical device to reduce operating time and cost? I realised that the best way for me to address these questions was not as a physician but as a biomedical engineer. After studying biomedical engineering for four years, I graduated with my Bachelor of Science degree and continued on through postgraduate studies.

What is your proudest professional achievement?
As an undergraduate student in the US, I led the Tau Beta Pi (TBP) Engineering Honour Society, a prestigious organisation formed by top-performing engineers. While president of TBP, I organised a partnership between the School of Engineering and a local primary school. Our mission was to expose young, minority students to science and engineering. What made me proud of forming this partnership was walking into the primary school and seeing these bright young faces bubbling with excitement to share what they all learned in our previous session. Not only did they remember the concepts we previously taught them, but also they were also eager to learn more.

What is your proudest personal achievement?
In secondary school, I started a scholarship programme with the intentions of growing it into a larger non-profit foundation that helps students reach their goals. To date, the programme has awarded scholarships to three women who have graduated with degrees in STEM fields, and we have helped five other students gain funding for their education and acceptances into postgraduate programmes.

How has being a woman shaped, influenced and impacted your career?
I am blessed to have a mother who is an engineer and who has been a mentor and role model for me. She has not only taught me the importance of perseverance but also the importance of helping other young women navigate the challenges I have overcome. Now, I am motivated to achieve greater heights in my career so that I can continue to give back and make a positive impact in more lives.

How has being a part of the Department of Bioengineering shaped your career?
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Department of Bioengineering. I am completing an MRes in Medical Device Design and Entrepreneurship. The independent nature of my course, combined with the excellent mentorship and entrepreneurship lectures/case studies, provided a clearer understanding of what it means to be an entrepreneur in the medical technology sector. The business knowledge and hands-on experience I’ve gained over this past year fortified my plans to start my own med-tech company in the future.

What piece of advice would you give a 17-year-old girl that is thinking about studying Bioengineering?
Nothing can stop you if you don’t limit yourself. Continue to believe that all things are possible. This is the kind of thinking that leads to innovation. And don’t be afraid to ask questions—always ask questions, and you’ll continue to learn.


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