Engineer wins first Flemish PhD Cup with surgery-enhancing robot


Andy Gijbels of the University of Leuven has won Flanders’ first PhD Cup, a contest that asks young researchers to explain their work in three minutes or less

Art of communication

Andy Gijbels, a doctor of engineering sciences at the University of Leuven, has won the first Flemish PhD Cup with his presentation on robot technology. Gijbels was chosen as the best of eight finalists in explaining the core of his research in three minutes to a general audience.

Organised by non-profit Scriptie, the PhD Cup is meant to help young researchers learn how to promote their work succinctly outside the world of academia. Sixteen chosen participants received media training, and the final eight took part in the final at the Paleis der Academiën in Brussels. 

Gijbels (pictured) has developed a robot to enable eye surgeons to operate 10 times more precisely than currently possible. The technique will be especially useful in surgeries on patients who have been blinded by blocked retinal veins. Some 60,000 people per year worldwide suffer from the condition.

During surgery, doctors have to inject an anticoagulant in the extremely fine veins of the eye. This manoeuvre is too precise for human hands, but can be done with the assistance of Gijbels’ robot. The robot will be used for the first time on patients in the coming months. 

“Fascinating research that was presented very clearly and convincingly by a talented and passionate researcher,” said the jury about Gijbels’ presentation. The engineer will receive a €10,000 to follow a course in entrepreneurship at Vlerick Business School. 

Photo: Kevin Faingnaert