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New Year’s Honours list 2024: Nottingham brain imaging academic awarded an OBE

An academic who works on the development of brain imaging technology has been awarded an OBE in this year’s New Year Honours.

Professor Matthew Brookes from the University of Nottingham’s School of Physics and Astronomy has been recognised for services to physics.

A physicist who has spent 20 years working on the development and application of multi-modal brain imaging, Professor Brookes helped pioneer a new kind of wearable brain scanner that has potential to transform the diagnosis and understanding of a number of neurological and psychiatric disorders, including autism, epilepsy and dementia.

This new generation of brain scanner employs quantum enabled sensors to measure magnetic fields above the scalp that are generated by brain activity (a process termed magnetoencephalography (MEG)).

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Professor Brookes and his team have used small, lightweight optically pumped magnetometers (OPMs), which employ the fundamental quantum physics of atoms to measure the neuromagnetic field.

The team were able to incorporate these sensors into a novel scanner design that can be worn as a helmet allowing people to move freely.

The system can be adapted to anyone, from newborns to adults, and sensors can be placed much closer to the head, dramatically enhancing data quality. OPM-MEG is also cheaper than conventional scanners.

Commenting on receiving the honour, Professor Brookes said: “I’m absolutely delighted to receive this incredible honour.

“I’ve been fortunate to work with an unbelievably talented team of scientists for many years, both here in Nottingham and with collaborators across the world, and the credit for all we have achieved must go to them.

“I’d also like to thank all of the staff and students in the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre and School of Physics and Astronomy, who make working at the University an immense pleasure.

“Most importantly, I’d like to thank my family, in particular my wife Emma and our children Isabel and Freddie, for their unwavering support over a long career”.

Professor Brookes has been a leading player in neuroimaging for many years, working on mathematical modelling for MEG data, fusion of data from multiple imaging modalities, and structural and functional MRI, before joining the UK national quantum technology programme to work on development of the new scanner.

He leads and supports a team of scientists working on MEG and actively promotes their career development, encouraging them to publish and publicise research. This has led to further awards and recognition for the team from the Institute of Physics who received the Clifford Paterson award, the Blatvanik Family Foundation the Medical Research Council and the Times Higher.

The combined efforts of Professor Brookes and his team made the commercialisation of OPM-MEG viable. Cerca Magnetics Limited was launched in July 2020 with a vision to support institutions around the world who want to use OPM-MEG technology. In it’s first 3 years Cerca has been profitable with over £13 million of sales. This has enabled the new technology to be installed in major hospitals and leading academic institutions worldwide.

In 2021 Professor Brookes and Cerca Magnetics collaborated with national charity, Young Epilepsy to revolutionise the diagnostic experience for children with the condition by introducing the world’s first clinical wearable MEG (Magnetoencephalography) brain scanning system to its Health and Research Centre in Surrey.

Professor Richard Bowtell, Director of the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre at the University of Nottingham said: “This is a richly deserved accolade for Professor Matt Brookes. Matt’s research has had a major impact in the scientific, clinical and economic domains and he is an inspiring colleague and excellent mentor to those with whom he works, as well as being a thoroughly nice person.”

Professor Shearer West,Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Nottingham said: “The work of Professor Brookes and his team is accelerating our understanding of brain function and builds on a long legacy of brain imaging research at the University of Nottingham. The commercialisation of the MEG system is also creating important new collaborations and taking this research around the world. We are very proud of Professor Brookes’ achievements, as we are of all of those who are connected with the University who have had their academic success recognised with a New Year Honour.”

Honorary Professor of Chemistry, Dr Simon Grant has also been awarded an MBE for services to diversity in the chemical industry. Dr Grant is Technical Director at speciality chemicals manufacturer Thomas Swan and has been in the chemical industry for over 25 years, with a focus on research and development. Dr Grant is passionate about improving diversity within the Chemical Sciences had has been a member of the Inclusion and Diversity Committee at the Royal Society of Chemistry. He also champions diversity as part of his role on the Sustainability Steering Group of the Chemical Industries Association.

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