Yao Named “Champion of Science” for 2021 International Day of Light

May 17, 2021 | Michaela Kane

Junjie Yao and 19 other researchers were recognized for their work to use light to make important scientific advancements

Junjie Yao

Junjie Yao

Junjie Yao, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University, was recently named a “Champion of Science” by the UNESCO International Day of Light Steering Committee. Yao was one of 20 researchers recognized for their pioneering work and contributions to light science and related technologies.

“I’m absolutely honored to be selected as a Champion of Science,” says Yao. “With the pandemic lingering around the world, it is more important than ever to promote photonic science and technology in human health care. I will take this valuable opportunity to work with my outstanding peers to make a brighter and more colorful future for society.”

Yao was recognized for advancing the field of photoacoustic tomography (PAT). The powerful imaging technology uses short laser pulses paired with ultrasound waves to create detailed biomedical images that can help researchers detect abnormalities, like malignant cells. Although standard imaging technologies like X-ray, CT scans or MRI can provide larger anatomical images, PAT provides researchers with a way to precisely and quickly image everything from a single cell to a patient’s entire body. Beyond this flexibility, PAT allows researchers to gather functional and molecular information about tissue and cellular targets.

Yao helped develop the fastest photoacoustic imaging system in 2015, which allowed researchers to view how the brain consumes oxygen. At Duke, Yao and his lab are using the technique to perform neurological studies to better understand neurons, blood vessels and other structures in the brain.

The International Day of Light took place on Sunday, May 16, 2021. This global initiative provides an annual focal point for the continued appreciation of light and the role it plays in science, culture and art, education and sustainable development. The event also highlights the diverse role of light in fields like medicine, communications and energy.

At Duke, the Fitzpatrick Institute of Photonics (FIP) also highlights the role of light in engineering and explores the frontiers of photonics during their annual FIP Symposium. This year, the event will kick off on the International Day of Light.