When Engineering Gets Involved in Psychiatry - By : Substance,

When Engineering Gets Involved in Psychiatry

Sylvain Bouix Applies his Expertise to Neuroimaging

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Sylvain Bouix could have been a chamber music clarinetist or a psychiatrist specializing in schizophrenia; instead, he chose to become a software engineer and apply his expertise to neuroimaging.

Since childhood, the software engineering professor at ÉTS has been fascinated by the world of Legos and robots. So naturally, he was drawn to science when it came time to enroll in high school. In 1998, he earned his engineering degree from the Institut Polytechnique de Sévenans, in France.

He planned to focus his career on industry, but his internship at the University of Kansas in the United States was a game changer. Professor John Gauch introduced young Bouix to research, and that was the trigger. “We’re working on problems no one has thought of before.” It is a never-ending quest. Sylvain Bouix stayed in Kansas and completed his master’s degree in computer science under the supervision of Professor Gauch.

Connections between Algorithms and the Brain Maze

Then, on to McGill University for his PhD where, under the supervision of Professor Kaleem Siddiqi, Bouix focused his work on computer vision, specifically on 3D shape analysis. “How can we develop algorithms that will represent three-dimensional shapes that computers can understand?”

A project with Professor Siddiqi allowed the young PhD student to transfer his research to the field of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain. This involved measuring evolving changes in the shape of the hippocampus in women and men. “Yes, men’s hippocampi thin out faster than women’s.”

Since his foray into the medical field, 3D morphometric analysis of anatomical structures of the brain has been at the heart of Sylvain Bouix’s work.

Helping Neuroscientists See Clearly

So, during his post-doctoral studies, Bouix fully entered the world of mental illness. As a researcher in the Department of Psychiatry at a Harvard-affiliated hospital in Boston, he attempted to improve the quality of information extracted from medical imaging. “My role was focused on developing tools that will help neuroscientists understand what is going on in the human brain analyzed through an MRI.”

Since 2005, Bouix has been leading the development of robust image-processing algorithms for the Psychiatry Neuroimaging Laboratory. Thousands of MRIs were quality controlled, processed and reviewed within context, whether to assess schizophrenia, head trauma or other diseases. But the researcher became aware of a major flaw in algorithm development.

Inclusion is Part of Scientific Advancement

“Too much of the same thing is not a good thing.” If the population pool used as a database is too homogeneous, algorithm reliability becomes a challenge—no matter how much we try to develop the best diagnostic tools. Consequently, Sylvain Bouix has included a redefinition of existing standards and algorithms to detect bias in his projects folder. “Is it even possible to measure a biased algorithm?” That is the question!

Teaching is Providing a Different Perspective

Sylvain Bouix, professor at ÉTS

Sylvain Bouix, professor at ÉTS

After 25 years focused on pure research, Sylvain Bouix now feels the need to share his knowledge. His unique profile provides the new cohort of ÉTS students with a different perspective. This is what he prioritizes: “Trying to shift their preconceptions to other ideas.” His talent for popularization will serve him well. And there is so much to do in the mental health field that Engineering will always be welcome.

Sylvain Bouix’s work schedule extends well beyond 2026. In addition to his position as a professor of Software Engineering and Information Technology at ÉTS, he is collaborating on a large international study involving some 40 countries. This project studies young adults at high risk of developing psychosis. Sylvain Bouix will coordinate data management and ensure the quality of the collected information.

When Music Goes Well, so Does Everything Else!

And when he has a little time off, professor and engineer Sylvain Bouix takes out his clarinet and practises the solo number he will be playing at his next chamber music concert.

Yes, Sylvain Bouix has more than one string to his bow, probably because he likes the multidisciplinary aspect of his work and insists on the freedom to cross the borders of parallel universes. And the world of engineering is all the better for it.

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