Tiago Costa

by Xandra van Megen

Finally arrived in Delft
During the rainy days in October, a rising star came to Delft. His name: Tiago Costa. After doing his bachelor's, master's and PhD in Lisbon (Portugal) and a postdoc in New York (USA), he is now an assistant professor at the microelectronics department at the TU Delft.

Not physically penetrating the brain
Tiago Costa is developing technologies, specifically using integrated circuits on microchips, to try to interfere with the nervous system, brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. This is useful because nowadays diseases, such as Parkinson or rheumatoid arthritis can be treated with electrical signals. However, this still requires surgery to implant large electrodes in the brain or placing electrodes around nerves, which is very risky.

The goal of Tiago Costa is to create microchips for minimal invasive or non-invasive treatments.  In order to achieve this, he is exploring ultrasound. Ultrasound can propagate through tissue and can be focused on a specific depth and location. This way chips of a few millimeters or centimeters can be used as wearables. This way no surgery is needed to physically penetrate through body parts, such as the brain.

This way no surgery is needed to physically penetrate through body parts, such as the brain.

A wake-up call
Tiago Costa is doing this research after getting a wake-up call. “For 6 months in between my master's and PhD, I went to work for a big car company, as an electrical engineer. It was a big shock when I realized that I only used a little knowledge from my background because the work was much more superficial. Another thing was that I saw that the industry was only led by profits, regardless of the applications. I was not seeing myself working there for the next 20 years. I really wanted to do something that can help mankind in some way, not just work in a company developing products people even don’t know why they need it. That is why I went back to university and continued with microelectronics in the medical field to really add value.”

I was not seeing myself working there for the next 20 years. I really wanted to do something that can help mankind in some way.

Bridge the gap
He is motivated to continue this research because he is convinced he can make the step to the actual reality. “People have been talking about brain-machine interfaces for the last 20 years, but you don’t see any. The promise that science made to the world has somehow failed the expectations. I still see a big gap between the potential outcomes and the actual reality. I think I am able to make this step. However, I don’t know how much time it will take. Hopefully, it will turn out to be something meaningful.”

People have been talking about brain-machine interfaces for the last 20 years, but you don’t see any.

Bikes, flatland, tulips. Lunch?!
As Tiago Costa just started at the beginning of October he is starting to find collaborations with other colleagues and professors. The research he is conducting is very multidisciplinary. He is focusing on a device, but there is much more to it. He needs collaboration with medical specialists and neuroscientists, but he is also seeking collaborations in micro-fabrication facilities, such as the Else Kooi laboratory and signal processing experts.

He already mentioned that the group environment in his department is very nice, friendly, open and multicultural. However, he is still surprised by the Dutch people in his group. “I knew about the bikes, I knew about the flatland and I knew about the tulips, but I was very surprised about the lunch; Seeing people eating two slices of bread with cheese and drinking a glass of milk! I did not adapt to that yet.”

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