My interest is in collaborative science, where people play their different roles but come together to delineate a problem.
Starting at a young age I had the opportunity to learn how to program and solve problems with simple code, including programs I wrote as a volunteer at the local university. That started a lifelong love of the application of computing to science data. Now I work in medical engineering, where we combine computational approaches with hardware approaches that can help solve clinical or biomedical problems. Our main focus is on multi-scale imaging.
It’s a great time to be in the imaging field. The last 40 years has largely been the age of genetics, when we figured out the parts list for most organisms. But it’s like knowing the parts to your car without actually knowing what the car does. Imaging allows you to drive that car, and figure out what all the components do. I want to see how the components – particularly cells – function, both in normal and abnormal development, like cancer.
Cancer is a multi-scale disease. It starts off as a single cell phenomenon, becomes multi-cellular in terms of a tumor, but then can become single cell again. The thing that kills you are cells that are metastasized and break off from the tumor. If we can see a cell become a tumor mass of many cells, and then track the cell movement, we might be able to stop or delay cancer progression.
We are too often stratified by scale. Scientists like myself who have spent most of their career in the sub-micron world, peering into parts of cells, can lose sight of the tumor when it becomes metastasizing in an organ and spreads. People tend to work in silos based on the type of imaging work they do, such as optics or medical engineering, and often have little opportunity to interact.
Right now in biology there is also a spatial gap, as if there were a room in your house you couldn’t see. We’re blind in certain aspects of our ability to see cancers. We want to develop new methods that could offer views in between the sub-cellular world and the tissue organ level world.
A big part of imaging across scales is building equipment to do that. You can’t buy these kinds of instrumentation, which is why our fabrication lab is so critical to our mission. We are interested in building instruments that can cross spatial scales including combining imaging modes that ARE not typically combined.
We also want to shatter the silos so researchers combine their expertise with other collaborators to study a biological phenomenon. And our dream is to have projects that are across scales, recognizing that the biology doesn’t stop at a spatial scale.