Dr. Aaron Kyle
Dr. Aaron Kyle is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University. He was the 2018-2019 Joanna Nichols Visiting Scholar.
The 2019 Joanna Nichols Visiting Scholar, Dr. Aaron Kyle, auspiciously spent the month of January at TAS during the unveiling and opening of the new Solomon Wong Tech Cube facility. Dr. Kyle serves as Senior Lecturer in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University which has grown to incorporate bioinstrumentation, biomechanics, and tissue engineering. Dr. Kyle was named a recipient of Columbia University's Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels for his lasting influence on the intellectual development of Columbia students.
Dr. Kyle’s focus was clear from the start. “I’ve known I wanted to be an engineer since the third grade. I was fascinated by electricity growing up and as I got a little bit older I learned more about the melding of biological concepts with engineering, specifically with bioelectricity.” He pursued his undergraduate education at Kettering University and graduate studies at Purdue University, focusing his research on guidance systems for intravascular catheters. At Purdue, Dr. Kyle had more opportunities to teach than expected, realizing that “I loved being in the classroom with students” and setting up the lab.
His post-doc followed at Indiana Center for Vascular Biology and Medicine in Indianapolis, which then led to his current position as a professor at Columbia University for nine years.
During his time at Columbia he has expanded the senior design class, traveled to Uganda to provide device solutions for neonatal care needs, created a new course in bioinstrumentation that became part of the curriculum, and initiated the Hk Maker Lab summer program that propagates what he learned as a younger man to underrepresented and underprivileged high school students in New York City.
While at TAS, Dr. Kyle assisted with the design process and taught students about basic instrumentation, a combination of basic electrical circuit theory with passive elements like resistors and capacitors, electrical filtering, and how to use these things to pick up biological signals. He shared, “Since I’ve been at TAS I’ve been working primarily with the Robotic Engineering group in the Tech Cube which is a fantastic building in which to work. It’s pretty exciting when I get on campus each day to look up and see this shimmering edifice. It’s one part I’ve really enjoyed.”
His classes became a larger endeavor with integration from the extended science department and inclusion of more advanced engineering students, allowing them hands-on access and developing the important skill of identifying when something is going wrong, why it is going wrong. While the work certainly challenged the students, they also had a good time. “Working with Dr.Kyle was a very interesting experience,” says Raji R. ‘22, who had no previous experience in micro-controller electronics. “He was a very cool guy and an awesome teacher.” Eli K. ‘22 also described Dr. Kyle warmly. “He will help you with anything from the smallest circuit to the most complicated equations with the same enthusiasm and attention.”
Bianca T. ‘19 came into Dr. Kyle’s classes with more exposure to electrical engineering through prior TAS Robotics classes and electrical engineering summer programs for college credit. She says that taking the course with Dr. Kyle, “taught me how to think about what I want my engineering projects to accomplish. Instead of just building up a circuit for the sake of completing the circuit, I could design a circuit that did something such as measure temperatures, sense muscle contractions, or chest expansions during breathing.”
The admiration definitely flowed both ways for Dr. Kyle.
"The students here have been fantastic. I’m blown away by how respectful, interested, engaged, and focused the students are...even first-year students without the level of technical experience have been willing to take on these complicated challenges. They keep at it which is exciting for me as an educator."
He chose to visit TAS as the Joanna Nichols Visiting Scholar because “this seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime chance and I should jump on it. It has been an honor to be a part of this, and I am very happy to be here.”
Beyond the classroom, during a three-lecture series, “Bioelectricity: History and Applications,” Dr. Kyle shared information about how human bodies are generators and users of electrical energy. From the electrical powerhouses that are our brains through the tiny stapedius muscles in our ears, bioelectricity plays a critical role in the regulation of our bodies, transmission of information, and regeneration after injury. In this series of talks, he shared the history of bioelectric phenomenon; measurement of bioelectric activity with an emphasis on the electrical activity of the heart; and the role of bioelectricity in wound healing.
Dr. Kyle expressed the importance of a design mindset in any specialization – whether you are a dancer or a mathematician – during lunch assemblies for the Upper School. “Just having an appreciation for it even if you don’t go into sciences and mathematics, having a baseline of technological literacy, is important and should be maintained and fostered.” He believes that when you recognize and define a problem you can then work to understand the needs of actual people and develop solutions. He advised students to stay flexible in their thinking and use creativity as a pathway to develop innovative concepts. Failure is part of the process, and “getting stuck is not a roadblock but a detour.”
His parting advice to TAS students is, “Whatever spark you have now, don’t let anything take that away from you. Wherever that passion lies, let that be your bedrock.” With all of his impressive professional accomplishments, Dr. Kyle is most proud of having an impact on how former students think and getting them to flex their intellectual muscles. When reflecting on TAS he said, “The thing that I think is really special about this place is that you’ve got these great facilities in support of great students. I suspect that the people here would be doing great stuff wherever they went to school, but the fact that there is so much capacity here to do these sorts of things, not even just the engineering...that is a testament to a different caliber and quality of students.”
Dr. Kyle’s stay at TAS represents the eighth installment of the Joanna Nichols Visiting Scholar program, which is the result of the continuing, extraordinary generosity and vision of former TAS parent Mr. Kenny Cheng. The program brings relevant, distinguished, and stimulating figures such as Dr. Kyle to TAS each year to share singular insights and experiences with students. Past Visiting Scholars include:
- Dr. Jacob Soll, Professor of History and Accounting at the University of Southern California;
- Dr. Nancy Steinhardt, Department Chair and Professor of East Asian Art at the University of Pennsylvania;
- Dr. Michael Littman, Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University;
- Dr. David Spergel, Professor of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University;
- Dr. Benjamin Elman, Professor of East Asian Studies Department at Princeton University;
- Dr. Arthur Benjamin, Professor of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd University; and
- Mike Chinoy, Senior Fellow of the USC U.S.-China Institute.