Beckman researcher Yamuna Phal was selected to present her research at the 2021 MIT EECS Rising Stars workshop which took place virtually on Oct. 14-15.
Phal’s research in Beckman’s Computational Imaging Group advances infrared imaging technology for better, faster disease diagnosis. Her presentation, titled “Emerging Techniques in Infrared Imaging,” expounded on this groundbreaking work.
“I have addressed crucial challenges in IR imaging by complementary hardware development and software design,” Phal said. “Toward this goal, I implemented a novel rapid microscope with the capability to map chirality in the sample. Chirality is an inherent property of all biological samples, where the molecules form non-superimposable mirror images of each other. Traditional spectroscopy techniques typically take hours for bulk samples, so extending such a technique to imaging is challenging and involves rethinking of both the optical design and the back-end acquisition strategies.
“Taken altogether, my research encompasses a fundamental information theory approach that pushes the spatial and spectral limits of IR microscopy.”
To present at this workshop, students underwent a competitive selection process. Phal views her successful application as a culmination of her research efforts at Beckman.
“It is an honor and privilege to be selected,” Phal said. “I am grateful to my colleagues at Beckman who have supported me through the ups and downs. I feel it is because of these wonderful interdisciplinary experiences that my research thrived, and I was able to present a cohesive solution for a crucial problem.”
The Rising Stars workshop highlights contributions to electrical engineering and computer science from students “with historically marginalized or underrepresented genders,” a mission for which Phal advocates in her own career.
“It has become increasingly important to recognize and empower underrepresented minorities in engineering and other STEM fields. During my undergrad, in our class of 80 students, we were only five women. Looking back on this situation and discussing it with my other female peers, it is only now that I recognize it.
“Typically, being in engineering fields, the norm for women is to work comparatively hard and not to be seen differently. But now I see that women’s unique experiences should be recognized and appreciated.”
In 2020, Phal received the Nadine Barrie Smith Memorial Fellowship, which provides funding to female engineering graduate students conducting medical imaging research at the Beckman Institute.
Integral to Phal’s professional development is her rich repertoire of mentoring relationships, and a single mentor in particular: Rohit Bhargava, a professor of bioengineering, the director of the Cancer Center at Illinois, and Phal’s Ph.D. adviser.
“I am highly indebted to Professor Bhargava, who has encouraged and motivated me to follow the academic track path,” Phal said. “He also nominated me for the SPARK Faculty program this summer, and that was a stepping-stone toward this opportunity.”
SPARK Faculty, or Strategic Preparation for Academic Resilience and Know-how, is an initiative founded by Bhargava and former women graduate students at UIUC to support female students pursuing faculty appointments in academia.
“I am very pleased that Yamuna has been recognized for her potential to become a faculty member in the future. She has a great environment and set of colleagues at Beckman for her to succeed in her goals,” Bhargava said.
In addition to her research at Beckman Institute, Phal is a Ph.D. candidate at UIUC studying electrical and computer engineering. Fellow ECE colleagues Srilakshmi Pattabiraman and Mei-Yun Lin were also selected to present at the 2021 MIT EECS Rising Stars
Read more about Phal’s presentation, “Emerging Techniques in Infrared Imaging,” at https://risingstars21-eecs.mit.edu/phal/.
A part of this work was also featured in Analytical Chemistry and received a poster prize at the SciX 2021 conference.
Rising Stars is an intensive workshop for graduate students and postdocs with historically marginalized or underrepresented genders who are interested in pursuing academic careers in electrical engineering, computer science, and artificial intelligence and decision-making. Launched at MIT in 2012, the annual event has since been hosted at the University of California at Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Learn more at https://risingstars21-eecs.mit.edu/.