Rishyashring “Rishee” Raman Iyer is a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering, who works in the Biophotonics Imaging Lab with Professor Stephen Boppart. He also collaborates with members from Professor Liang Gao’s group.
Hometown: Bangalore, India
What kind of research are you working on?
My research focus is on developing novel label-free optical microscopy platforms for imaging neural activity. Currently, if one needs to assess nerve activity at a cellular scale, one would either have to ‘poke’ it with a microelectrode or use dyes / transgenic models that can change the biochemical environment of these neurons. So, instead of directly trying to measure the electrical activity, my research focuses on measuring the accompanying metabolic changes, ion-flux, and optical orientation of the neuron with techniques such as fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy and polarization-sensitive optical coherence microscopy. Secondly, because these measurements are extremely sensitive and fast, I am also interested in using adaptive optics to reshape the beam in innovative ways to improve the speed and sensitivity of our observations.
Why is this important and why do you find it interesting?
I was first drawn to microscopy when I realized that I get to play around with some really cool lasers and beam shaping techniques. As time progressed, I found looking at ‘life’ happen at this tiny scale can be very fascinating and informative. For a while, I even imaged a small portion of my lunch on most days and was amazed to see the complicated microscopic structures within these everyday items. Each new tool built in this field can somehow discover an interesting biological phenomenon. I wanted to build such microscopes and tools for studying neurons, which combine my passion for electricity and biology. I think this research is important because a lot of basic information about neurons is still lacking. Finding out the subtle connections between neuron’s metabolism and its activity can help us build better models and may even open new avenues for controlling their behavior.
How has your affiliation with the Beckman Institute helped you?
I think that Beckman Institute fosters a very warm and collaborative environment that can not only accelerate the pace of research but also improve the quality of research produced. Personally, I really appreciate the fun events like the Quantum Rhapsody concert and the Curious and Eclectic seminar series that encouraged me to explore fun new topics. It also helped me make connections with academicians in fields so apart from mine that it otherwise would have been impossible without Beckman Institute’s initiatives.
What are your career plans?
I want to spend my working life in academia. I absolutely love building cool new technology, doing grunt-work research, exploring random rabbit holes in science, and talking about it to as many people as possible. My alternate career plan is to open a coffee shop with an attached bookstore.
What do you like to do outside of the classroom or lab?
I love art, especially the impressionism and the post-impressionism eras. I am also a big fan of comic books. I even recently started drawing my own comic books trying to explain a few concepts in science in fun new ways. (See “A Cry for Help From an Electron Trapped in a Laser,” written and illustrated by Rishee Iyer.) My other passion is cooking and experimenting with food.
Favorite C-U restaurant:
I love the ambiance at Aroma Café in downtown Champaign and can often be found warming their chairs in the afternoon if I am not doing experiments in the lab.