Orly Liba

Since coming to Stanford’s campus, Orly has been an active participant in WEE and Stanford’s OSA – two of the student organizations available to enrich life on campus. Her research appeared in a June 2017 Stanford Medicine article for devising a way to improve OCT images – Orly is the lead author on the featured research paper. We look forward to all of Orly’s contributions!

Program: PhD '18

How did you become interested in your research area?

I have always been curious about the invisible properties of light, such as frequency and phase, and how they can be used to reveal information through imaging. My research focuses on developing computational and optical tools for medical imaging with optical coherence tomography (OCT). In my research, we use the wave properties of light: coherence, phase and frequency, in combination with computational tools, such as image and signal processing algorithms, to see very small structures under the skin non-invasively. This technology can help doctors obtain a better diagnosis and assist surgeons by allowing them to see below the surface of the region they are operating on. The combination of physics and computation and the medical applications are the main reasons for why I chose this research area.

Explain a project you're currently working on.

One of the projects I am currently working on is developing a method to visualize molecules, such as bio-markers, below the surface of the skin non-invasively with cell-scale microscopic resolution using optical coherence tomography (OCT). Bio-markers are good indicators for the cells' activity and also one of the ways in which cells communicate with their surroundings. By visualizing the bio-markers of cells we can learn more about the cells' functional state in diseases and in reaction to treatment. This type of imaging, often called molecular imaging, provides more information into the underlying biological processes occurring inside the body, compared to only looking at tissue structure, and could lead to the development of improved therapies.

Developing this imaging modality and demonstrating its feasibility require knowledge in multiple fields, such as optics, signal processing, biophysics and chemistry, and benefits from researchers of various backgrounds. As the electrical engineer in our group, I helped develop the optical imaging setup and the algorithms for performing signal processing and image analysis. For example, I developed an algorithm for detecting a contrast agent in OCT images based on its unique light-scattering spectrum.

Why did you choose Stanford EE?

I chose to study and perform research at Stanford EE for several reasons. First, the ground-breaking research performed at Stanford by outstanding researchers, in fields such as optics, computational imaging and machine learning. Second, the exceptional classes taught at Stanford, which focus on both theory and application, and which are on the cutting-edge of electrical and software engineering, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and computational imaging. Next, the multidisciplinary and collaborative environment which promotes the application of the latest technologies to biological and medical research. There truly are no boundaries between labs and departments. One of the platforms for collaboration is Bio-X, which brings together many departments to contribute to a better understanding of biology and medicine. In addition, Stanford provides various enrichment opportunities for students to learn about entrepreneurship, design-thinking and develop their careers.

What other activities are you involved with on campus?

Studying at Stanford wouldn't be the same without its numerous professional and social groups. I have mostly been active in two groups: "women in electrical engineering" (WEE) and the "Stanford optical society". I was on the board of the WEE since the first year of my PhD and held the positions of webmaster and financial officer. WEE creates a community of women engineers by organizing mentoring, social and professional events.

On the Stanford Optical Society, I was in the outreach and speakers committees. Last year I was the chair of the speakers committee and helped organize seminars and workshops relevant to researchers working with optics. In addition to these two groups, I was a mentor for EDGE (a program for enhancing diversity in graduate education) and had the opportunity to support two students who started their PhDs in computer science.

On my third year, I participated in Stanford Ignite, a month-long program in the Graduate School of Business, in which I was able to learn the basics of entrepreneurship and develop a business plan for one of my research projects.

What are your career plans?

I am looking forward to using the tools I've gained at Stanford and continue doing research and development in computational imaging, optics and computer vision. These fields can be applied to medical imaging, robotics, virtual/augmented reality, microscopy and more. I am currently exploring different options both in academia and industry.