Like many of his peers, West Virginia University computer engineering senior John Nozum is gearing up for the culmination of years of hard work and preparationgraduation. Unlike many of his peers, Nozum has had a number of tremendous challenges along the way, most of which that came as a result of having Goldenhars syndrome (pronounced golden harz), a rare birth defect characterized by facial and cranial deformities.
Some research has led to some evidence that suggests Goldenhar’s syndrome is caused by exposure to certain toxic chemicals and pesticides. Nozums condition appears to have been caused by his mother’s exposure to chemicals in the workplace.
He has dealt with impairments of his speech, hearing, and vision, and, more recently, severe sleep apnea which has been relieved significantly by a tracheotomy. He has had about 35 surgeries in his lifetime and may still face future surgeries to correct ongoing problems caused by his condition. Through all of this, however, Nozum has kept his great sense of humor and his great desire to learn.
In 1992, he earned a medical assistant degree from Belmont Technical College in St. Clairsville, Ohio. Due to a very poor job market in the field at the time, he was not able to find employment, even after looking in four states.
In 1994, a combination of his talents and special interests led him to Morgantown and then to WVU . Nozum has always had an inventive streak and a keen interest in music. In fact, using Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI), a means for instruments to communicate to each other and/or computers, hes composed about 50 original works. He can also play numerous instruments including the piano, organ, pipe organ, portable keyboard, accordion, guitar, harmonica and drums and has over 500 instruments in his computer library.
“To some people, a flute is just a flute, but to me instruments are a way to express things going on in my head that are hard to express verbally,”Nozum explains.
And as far as his inventiveness, hes always seemed to have what most future engineers have early ona desire to make things work better. In 1994, he had a great idea for an invention which led him to the Patent Depository at WVU s Evansdale Library. The invention was an improved musical computer system that promises to give those in the music field significant new creative possibilities for composition and performance.
WVU librarian Natalie Rutledge noticed how quickly Nozum mastered the CD-Rom based pre-application search system at the Patent and Trademark Depository Collection and suggested he look into studying computer science or computer engineering. She got him in touch with Professors Wils Cooley, Franz Hiergeist and Al Stiller from the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. He enrolled in computer science in 1996 and then switched to computer engineering in 1998.
Even though he enjoys programming, he switched to computer engineering rather than computer science because, according to Nozum,”It involves more hardware design and a more active role in the design process.”
The computer engineering program also allowed Nozum to combine his medical training, music and computer interests to produce some really remarkable design projects such as a digital pulse monitor and a musical electrocardiogram (EKG). He presented the latter project in a student design competition at the Institute of Electrical and Electronic EngineersBiomedical Engineering Society Annual Conference in Atlanta in 1999, where he placed fourth overall.
The EKG is one of the most commonly used vital signs used clinically. EKG s carry a wealth of diagnostic information for the clinician; however, because small changes in a patients EKG can be difficult to notice on a monitor screen, Nozum devised an additional mode of EKG analysis. In doing so, he created software that can take standard EKG data and convert it to a”musical”form.”The conversion is done in real time, since the main idea is to use the technology in an Intensive Care Unit setting, where a patients EKG “tune”can change swiftly from one minute to the next.
“What I developed was amusical interpretationof the EKG waveform in such a way to make the detection of small, but potentially critical changes, easier,”Nozum said.
Dr. Cooley, who advised him on his project work, describes Nozum as a”natural”designer because his design work is so well attuned to the need of those people who will use it.
While at least a couple other products have been marketed for converting EKG data into music, these were more for pleasure and being creative with the idea of using body signals as the foundation for newly devised music.These products have little or no diagnostic value on the musical end.
So whats next for Nozum? Well, like most new grads, hes looking for a job. Hes willing to relocate pretty much anywhere as long as its not too hot and has a fair amount of snow each yearhe really loves snow. His ideal job will be one that uses his strengths which are his creativity and inventiveness and his computer skills.
He also is interested in a line of work that directly or indirectly makes the world a better place.
“When Im helping others, I find Im helping myself,”Nozum says.