My research lab focuses on the use of computational photonics to create new optical microscopy, sensing and diagnostics technologies that significantly improve our toolset for probing micro- and nano-scale objects while also simplifying the designs of these analysis tools, making them highly suitable for point-of-care and home use, as well as for resource poor settings. Through these emerging technologies, I create integrated self-learning systems and networks, specifically for biomedical micro-analysis and diagnosis, aiming to impact various global health challenges with highly sensitive, specific and yet remarkably cost-effective and compact solutions. In this HHMI program, I will launch a large scale interdisciplinary undergraduate research & training program to promote and facilitate the innovation, design and translation processes of these computational biophotonics, imaging, sensing and diagnostics technologies toward telemedicine and global health applications. Annual concurrent projects will be led by a postdoctoral scholar that will co-supervise five interdisciplinary undergraduate teams, each of which will be assigned a novel project serving to train 5 students with highly diverse backgrounds, i.e., a total of 25 undergraduate researchers. These projects will be annually selected on various applications of computational biophotonics and telemedicine together with our collaborators from UCLA School of Medicine, School of Public Health, Divisions of Physical Sciences and Life Sciences, California NanoSystems Institute as well as the School of Engineering. In addition to peer-reviewed journal publications, conference presentations and quarterly technical progress reports and presentations, each undergraduate team will also discuss their findings and achievements, together with experimental demonstrations of their designs, during an undergraduate research & demo workshop that will be organized at the end of each academic year.
This HHMI undergraduate research, training and innovation program will be widely scalable to other universities and institutions. Cost-effectiveness and design simplicity (which is compensated through computation and reconstruction algorithms) of our biophotonics technologies are among the most important aspects of our program for scalability and portability to other institutions, even in developing countries. This program will also have significant broad impact on undergraduate education by (1) training the next generation of scientists, engineers and innovators, providing the students with the needed tools to excel, also shaping their scientific thinking and academic diversity; (2) increasing the participation of minority students to STEM related research and training; (3) increasing the success and retention rate of high-risk students in STEM education by providing them with practical and hands-on design and research experience, the importance of which is also emphasized in the recent report of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) on Undergraduate STEM Education.
In summary, this HHMI program that we will create at UCLA leverages my lab's existing strengths in merging cutting-edge and innovative research with undergraduate education and training to establish a long-term and robust infrastructure, also setting an academic role-model system that can be significantly scaled up to other institutions and programs. This program will also provide a major milestone for my professional career as a scientist-educator in creating an interdisciplinary undergraduate research and training program on translational biomedical imaging and sensing technologies, also promoting academic diversity in STEM related fields.