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Matt Cottam Bio

It’s probably not often that Cottam, CEO of Providence’s Tellart design studio and an adjunct professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, is mentioned in the same breath with actors whose painstaking research and total immersion in character produced some of the most memorable performances in American film history.But a few years ago, working on a Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) project to develop robots used in training army medics, Cottam borrowed a page from the Method Actors’ handbook.As he and his RISD students were designing lungs for the robots, Cottam realized that the only way to truly understand what features would be most effective for training medics was to become a medic himself. So Cottam enrolled in an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) course, eventually becoming an EMT-Cardiac and an Advanced Life Support (ALS) Medic for the National Ski Patrol.Cottam says the mannequins he and his class developed (with fellow RISD Alum Ryan Bardsley from the Sim Group at MGH) are extremely lifelike, have exceedingly realistic simulated injuries and reactions to treatments, and are rugged to boot — “as durable as a bicycle,” he says. In addition, Ski Patrol training showed Cottam the need for a better rescue toboggan, so he and his students designed one. It is outfitted with lightweight and compacted versions of the equipment found on high-tech ambulances, allowing the Ski Patrol to give real emergency care on the slopes.Cottam isn’t the first designer to put himself in the end-user’s place; the practice is known as participatory design. But he admits that going so far as to become an ALS Ski Patrol medic “is a pretty extreme case, and a pretty extreme hobby.”As it turns out, it was only the beginning. The next project for Cottam’s class was the development of a protective suit which Paramedics and other emergency medical workers could wear to a HAZMAT scene. To most effectively address the design issues of the suit, Cottam felt he should approach the problem from a firefighter’s or Disaster Medic’s perspective. Like Brando living in a wheelchair before playing a handicapped man, or DeNiro packing on 60 pounds to play a retired boxer, Cottam decided the project required him to extend his emergency medical-care training — for three years.“I never would have thought to design a HAZMAT suit for a paramedic, except that through my training I realized there were these incredible bottlenecks in the emergency-care process,” he says. “Having treated real patients myself, I believe I became a more effective designer of the suits.”Existing HAZMAT suits are so oppressive that firemen can only stand to wear them for about half an hour, meaning that in most cases, firemen can only drag victims behind a decontamination line rather than treating them at the scene. Cottam realized that a medic who could treat and intubate patients directly at a HAZMAT scene could save many more people.Contact a speaker booking agent to check availability on Matt Cottam and other top speakers and celebrities.


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