Meet Ian Thompson! He is applying his passion for applied physics and electrical engineering to do biomed research.
How did you become interested in your research area?
Growing up in a medical family, I was definitely predisposed to working on something in the realm of healthcare. I thought I escaped this when I found a passion for applied physics and EE coursework during my undergraduate degree. However, all my work and research experiences had me drifting back towards solving problems in the medical field, albeit from an engineer's perspective. I think what compels me to focus on biomedical challenges is how it forces me to think on many different scales. Firstly, the technologies we design must interface with the immense complexity of the human body on both a systemic and microscopic level. But further, to really create a clinical impact they have to be compatible with the realities of how healthcare is administered. The challenge of making all these factors come together, with the ultimate goal of improving quality of life, is what keeps me motivated in my research.
Explain a project you're currently working on.
The current way that we understand our state of health is through relatively few sparse snapshots in time, like a single blood test or imaging study, with little to no insight into what happens in between. One of our group's aims is to build sensors that allow us to continuously monitor biological indicators in real-time so that we can achieve a better understanding of health and disease, leading to more effective diagnosis and treatment. To be effective in-vivo, a biosensor needs some type of molecular recognition element that interacts selectively with the biomarker of interest while ignoring all the other biomolecules present. Thus, to achieve faster temporal resolution and higher sensitivity in our measurements, I have been focused on new strategies for engineering this molecular interface (in our case DNA aptamers) that lies between the patient and the electronic/optical platforms we use for detection. It has been an incredibly enriching experience learning to bridge the gap between molecular nanotechnology and the more traditional EE discipline of biomedical device design.
Why did you choose Stanford EE?
As I was planning my graduate studies, what really made Stanford stand out among the world's top research institutions was its commitment to problem-driven, cross-disciplinary work. Stanford offers the rare opportunity to be part of a world-class EE department, while also being just a few buildings away from top medical and biological researchers. This ease of collaboration opens up the opportunity to rapidly understand the biomedical challenges that matter most and how our EE skillset can address them. Further, I knew the chance to live and do research surrounded by both the atmosphere of innovation in Silicon Valley and the natural beauty of California would make for an incredible life experience.
What other activities are you involved with on campus?
The Stanford Alpine Club has made a lot of my time outside of lab an absolute blast. I was fortunate to meet a lot of great friends through the club who were willing to teach me to climb outdoors and make adventures happen all over California. Additionally, the abundance of beautiful spaces around campus has encouraged me to pick up a running habit and I'll be running my first half marathon in San Francisco later this year.
What are your career plans?
While I still have a lot of time left at Stanford, my experiences here so far have convinced me of the impact that biotechnology research will have on our lives in the decades to come. I hope that after completing my PhD, I can lead a team in biomedical research, not only to create new technology, but also to help guide its application in improving the quality of life around the world.