At first glance, the research images from Junjie Yao’s lab at Duke University appear more like abstract art than scientific graphics. Showcasing a kaleidoscope of colors with complex tangles of lines and curves, you’d never guess that these psychedelic-looking images can be used to track things like oxygen consumption in the brain, blood flow across different organ systems or even the temperature of deep tissues.
But that’s exactly what Yao does in his role as an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Duke.
Yao specializes in photoacoustic imaging, a technique that combines the properties of light and sound to peer deeper into tissue and create high-resolution images.
Yao first learned about the technique as an undergraduate student working in an optics lab at Tsinghua University, and he was inspired enough to focus on photoacoustic imaging as a PhD student. Now, more than a decade later, he’s still fascinated by the technology.
“The more I work with photoacoustic imaging the more I love it,” says Yao. “On one end of the spectrum, my lab is able to use it to pursue very basic research and answer basic biological questions. On the other end, we’re able to use it for clinical translation work that can directly help patients. We can be as creative as we want, and that’s very exciting.”