UC Irvine professor receives $3M biophotonics grant

In an effort to promote interdisciplinary graduate education, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has granted $3 million to University of California Irvine (UCI) biomedical engineering professor Vasan Venugopalan to develop a biophotonics doctoral program.

In an effort to promote interdisciplinary graduate education, the National Science Foundation (NSF; Arlington, VA) has granted $3 million to University of California Irvine (UCI; Irvine, CA) biomedical engineering professor Vasan Venugopalan to develop a biophotonics doctoral program. The Integrative Graduate Education & Research Traineeship (IGERT) grant will be used to establish the five-year-long program.

Already recognized as one of the world leaders in the area of biophotonics, UCI’s Beckman Laser Institute’s co-founder Michael Berns was one of the first scientists to ever use lasers to manipulate cells. Having extensive experience and acclaim for their research applying lasers to biological systems, this doctoral program established by UCI in biophotonics shows a progression toward the ever-growing research at the Beckman Laser Institute.

In hopes of not only furthering science developed with the use of biophotonics and technology using lasers on biological applications, Professor Venugopalan has worked to establish a doctoral program for students across many different disciplines to come together under the common goal of advancing biophotonics and developing new science.

Inspired by his own experiences from doing his doctoral research at both MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital, Professor Venugopalan is seeking to share the same interdisciplinary experience that he had, working with engineers, doctors, and the students at UCI.

The biophotonics doctoral program is not a new degree program, but the program will integrate doctoral programs from different disciplines, uniting the graduate students under the umbrella of biophotonics research. “Under the program, if students commit to being BEST IGERT Fellows they will be required to take a series of coursework and in return will get some resources to support their graduate education," Venugopolan explains.

The intentions of the program are to allow students to take courses specific to biophotonics that would take the place of general elective requirements that they would fulfill either way. The program also will maintain the same average length of a doctral program—five years in length, no longer than a normal doctoral degree.

The participating faculty members are from various different departments across campus, and are mainly focused in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) domain. These faculty members, including professors Ron Frostig and Eric Potma, are known for their extensive research contributions to the scientific community in their perspective fields.

Due to the fact that a significant portion of the $3 million funding from the NSF is allotted toward students’ educations, the funding will allow these professors involved with the biophotonics program to utilize even more of their separate grants towards their own research.

“So from our perspective, this grant gives us two years of funding from the NSF that would not come out of our normal research budget,” Venugopalan says. “I think it will enable us to do even more research with the same dollars we already get from our research grants.”

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