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CMU Portugal Inside Story: Manuel Reis Carneiro

Manuel Reis Carneiro is a CMU Portugal Dual Degree Ph.D. student in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Universidade de Coimbra and CMU’s ECE Department. He is supervised in Portugal by Mahmoud Tavakoli and at CMU by Carmel Majidi. Manuel has an M.Sc. degree in electrical and computer engineering with a specialization in automation from Universidade de  Coimbra. His research interests include stretchable and printed electronics, bioelectronic systems, and human-machine interfaces, with a special focus on medical applications.

In addition to his academic life, music has been one of his primary hobbies, and he has learned to play various instruments, including the drums, guitar, accordion, among others.

Let’s know more about his path. 

In 2019 we published this article on our website about your research under the CMU Portugal ERI Stretchtonics. So, your connection to the Program goes way back, before your Ph.D.
Can you let us know more?

Back in 2018, I was looking for a research group in which I could develop my MS.C. Thesis, and I came across the Soft and Printed Materials Lab and their work on soft and stretchable electronics. At the time, I met with Professor Mahmoud Tavakoli and pitched to him my idea to extend the soft electronics applications that had been proposed by his lab to the field of wearable electroencephalography (EEG) which interests me a lot. By the end of my Ms.C. Thesis in 2019, which was integrated into the Stretchtronics Project, we had developed a flexible, reusable, and low-cost wearable based on printed electronic textiles for assessment of brain function and brain-computer interfaces. This wearable EEG band was distinguished  in the Fraunhofer Portugal Challenge 2019 and received an honorable mention in the IBM Scientific Prize 2019. At the same time, Professor Tavakoli invited me for a research position in the Soft and Printed Microelectronics (SPM) Lab to keep developing this technology and to collaborate with other CMU Portugal projects. 

Why did you decide to pursue your Ph.D. Degree under the CMU Portugal Program?

I first read about the dual degree opportunity after my MSC. and I discussed it with Professor Mahmoud. By the time I decided to apply to the dual degree Ph.D., I had already started my Ph.D. in the University of Coimbra, and thought that the CMUPortugal program would provide me with  valuable international experience and a distinctive chance for me to expand my horizons and establish a strong research network in both Portugal and the United States.

You collaborate closely with your Supervisor at ISR Coimbra, Mahmoud Tavakoli. Which role did/does he play in your research path?

Mahmoud has played a pivotal role in shaping my research path. His guidance, expertise, and unwavering support have been instrumental in my academic and professional development so far. Mahmoud’s role goes beyond being just an advisor. He has been a mentor, providing valuable insights, challenging me to think critically, and pushing me to explore new avenues in my research. One of the most valuable aspects of working with Mahmoud is his ability to foster an environment of intellectual freedom and encourage me to think big. He never limits my ambition, constantly pushing me to aim higher and achieve more. This mindset has been transformative in my research journey, allowing me to explore novel ideas, navigate complex challenges, and giving me as well the opportunity to fail and try again.

Currently, at CMU, you are working in Carmel Majidi’s Soft Machines Lab. How is it going?

Working at Carmel Majidi’s Lab at CMU has been an incredible experience. I have the privilege of collaborating with exceptional colleagues whose expertise spans various fields. The lab environment provides numerous opportunities to collaborate and learn from others. Carmel sets high standards and challenges us to think outside the box, stimulating everyone to push the boundaries of what we can achieve. His mentorship has been invaluable, providing guidance, support, and valuable insights into all aspects of my research.

Are there significant differences between the two research labs you work in, the “Soft and Printed Microelectronics” at ISR Coimbra and the Soft Machines Lab at CMU?

Even though both labs (Carmel Majidi’s Lab in CMU and Mahmoud Tavakoli’s Lab in Portugal) do research related to soft engineering, Carmel has been focusing more on the field of soft robotics, while Mahmoud has pivoted more towards soft electronics.

“Being exposed to such a huge variety of projects in adjacent fields and getting feedback from people across various disciplines, from chemistry to robotics or mechanical engineering, adds greatly to the richness of my experience.”

On the other hand, Carmel and Mahmoud have been actively collaborating on various projects in the last few years. As a result, there are shared aspects between both labs, for instance, in terms of printing techniques, pieces of equipment in the lab and specific materials used in some applications. This “overlap” between the SML and the SPM has been advantageous while transitioning from Portugal to CMU as it facilitated a seamless and efficient transition, minimizing the downtime in my work as I was already familiar with most pieces of equipment and techniques used in both labs.

What are the main advantages of developing your research between two countries, Portugal and CMU?

By developing my research between CMU and the University of Coimbra, I’m able to tap into the vast academic resources, specialized knowledge, and collaborative prospects offered by both institutions. One of the main advantages is offering Ph.D. students a broader perspective and enhancing their research capabilities by being exposed to different approaches, methodologies, and academic cultures in both the US and Portugal.

“This program also facilitates networking with leading researchers, professors, and industry professionals in both countries, allowing us to establish valuable connections and build a strong professional network that can contribute to future career prospects.”

Please give us a brief explanation of what you are working on under your Ph.D..

My Ph.D. research focuses on developing a miniaturized and fully integrated wearable monitoring system based on printed stretchable electronics for a comprehensive assessment of cardiovascular health. Considering that cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death globally, I aim to develop wireless electronic stickers capable of continuously and non-invasively measuring blood pressure and electrocardiography in real-time so that users can be monitored with clinical-grade accuracy while maintaining their daily routines outside medical facilities.

Additionally, the study involves the development of environmentally friendly and recyclable soft materials with electronic functionality to address pressing issues related to electronic waste and the sustainability of electronic devices. The beauty of new perspectives lies in their ability to unveil alternative paths.

“The Dual Degree has provided me with the opportunity to look at my research and my personal development through the lenses of two distinct cultures across two countries on opposite sides of the pond. It continues to be an amazing journey filled with growth, learning, and remarkable experiences.”

Do you already have plans for your future after the Ph.D.? Do you plan to return to Portugal?

One of my long-term goals is to secure an academic position in Europe eventually, and returning to Portugal is definitely an option I am considering. As someone with a strong connection to my home country, I believe that contributing to education and science in Portugal would be a meaningful way to give back and make a difference, with the advantage of being closer to my family and friends. However, before settling into a permanent academic position, I’m motivated to expand my research, scientific collaborations, and professional network through other international experiences. Exploring postdoctoral positions abroad is certainly part of the plans after the Ph.D.

A piece of advice for potential Dual Degree Ph.D. candidates. 

The best advice for aspiring dual degree Ph.D. candidates, and indeed for anyone, is to seize the opportunity. Embrace the challenge, and don’t hold back. This is your opportunity to push the boundaries of what you believe is possible and to leave a lasting impact in your field.
On a more practical note, make sure to leverage the support and guidance of your (potential) advisors both in Portugal and CMU, as well as the dedicated CMUPortugal staff. They are invaluable resources who will assist you in navigating any bureaucratic processes and address any challenges that may arise along the way, both during the application process and the Ph.D. itself. Their expertise and assistance will ensure a smoother journey throughout your academic pursuit, allowing you to focus on your research and personal growth and maximizing your potential for success.

CMU Portugal delegation visit on Tuesday, March 28, 2023.