Alumni at Home in Thriving Neurotechnology Firm
Jul. 12, 2010
In an office building flanked by a strip mall and a gas station on Greenville Avenue, Chris Heydrick (BS ’06) and Damon Gee (MS ’06) work closely with what is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading devices for analyzing the brain and other parts of the nervous system.
Gee spends most of his days on the road, selling Plexon’s products to labs around the world. Heydrick is more comfortable fiddling with computer wires and complicated technical questions.
Both feel at home at Plexon — the brainchild of Dallas engineer Harvey Wiggins — where a team of engineers, biophysicists, neuroscientists and business people develop, manufacture and distribute hardware and software systems that acquire, record and analyze signals from brain cells.
Wiggins began working in 1970 on single-electrode data systems for the UT Dallas Callier Center for Communication Disorders. Fourteen years later, Wiggins launched Plexon, rolling out software now standard in many research labs. Neuroscientists use his products to study everything from the role of genes in Alzheimer’s disease to experiments linking the brain to robotic devices.
“Plexon has given credibility to biotechnology activities in the Dallas area,” explained Dr. Bruce Gnade, vice president for research at UT Dallas. And Wiggins has widened this field of study by helping create a Department of Bioengineering through his work on the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science Industrial Advisory Board and by providing jobs to such grads as Gee and Heydrick.
“This phase of my career has come full circle,” explained Wiggins. “I started at the Callier Center and was mentored by the late Dr. George Moushegian, a past director of Callier. Now I am mentoring students and advising the University.”
Before he landed at Plexon, Heydrick’s playground was the lab of UT Dallas neuroscientist Dr. Michael Kilgard. As a lab technician, Heydrick soaked up all he could about the technology that drives neuroscience research. “Now I do that same type of work on a global level,” he said. As a student in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS), Heydrick not only discovered a career path working in the lab but he also first spied now-fiancee Anushka Meepe (BS ’07) in her white lab coat.
Gee found Plexon while he was still in school. Tired of working nights running sleep studies, Gee said he “showed up at Plexon’s front door and asked for a job.” As a sales engineer, he’s placed Plexon’s highly technical products in labs and research facilities as far away as Russia and India. “As the neuroscience and psychology guy, I had a lot to learn about engineering,” said Gee, who studied applied cognition and neuroscience in BBS. Once a sale is made, Gee spends several days training customers to use such research tools as the Harvey Box, an industry term referring to the hardware’s inventor. A good year means he’s moved about 50, said Gee, who is married to a UT Dallas alumna, Sarah Litton (BS ’04, MS ’05).
For Gnade, Plexon’s niche in neuroscience and engineering speaks to something much bigger, he said: “We’ve got to continue to have places for our kids to go to work.”