Adam P Wax


Professor of Biomedical Engineering

Dr. Wax's research interests include optical spectroscopy for early cancer detection, novel microscopy and
interferometry techniques.

The study of intact, living cells with optical spectroscopy offers the opportunity to observe cellular structure, organization and dynamics in a way that is not possible with traditional methods. We have developed a set of novel spectroscopic techniques for measuring spatial, temporal and refractive structure on sub-hertz and sub-wavelength scales based on using low-coherence interferometry (LCI) to detect scattered light. We have applied these techniques in different types of cell biology experiments. In one experiment, LCI measurements of the angular pattern of backscattered light are used to determine non-invasively the structure of sub-cellular organelles in cell monolayers, and the components of epithelial tissue from freshly excised rat esophagus. This work has potential as a diagnostic method for early cancer detection. In another experiment, LCI phase measurements are used to examine volume changes of epithelial cells in a monolayer in response to environmental osmolarity changes. Although cell volume changes have been measured previously, this work demonstrates for the first time the volume of just a few cells (2 or 3) tracked continuously and in situ.

Appointments and Affiliations

  • Professor of Biomedical Engineering
  • Professor of Physics
  • Faculty Network Member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences
  • Member of the Duke Cancer Institute
  • Bass Fellow

Contact Information


  • Ph.D. Duke University, 1999
  • M.A. Duke University, 1996
  • B.S. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1993

Research Interests

Optical spectroscopy for early cancer detection, novel microscopy and interferometry techniques.

Awards, Honors, and Distinctions

  • Fellow. American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. 2014
  • Fellow. International Society for Optics and Photonics. 2010
  • Fellow. Optical Society of America. 2010
  • Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program. National Science Foundation. 2004

Courses Taught

  • BME 493: Projects in Biomedical Engineering (GE)
  • BME 494: Projects in Biomedical Engineering (GE)
  • BME 547: Medical Software Design
  • BME 551L: Biomedical Optical Spectroscopy and Tissue Optics (GE, IM)
  • BME 552: Advanced Optics
  • BME 590: Special Topics in Biomedical Engineering
  • BME 701S: BME Graduate Seminars
  • BME 728S: Teaching Seminar for New Teaching Assistants
  • BME 729S: Teaching seminar for repeat teaching assistants
  • BME 789: Internship in Biomedical Engineering
  • BME 791: Graduate Independent Study
  • ECE 541: Advanced Optics
  • MENG 550: Master of Engineering Internship/Project
  • MENG 551: Master of Engineering Internship/Project Assessment
  • MOLCAN 551L: Biomedical Optical Spectroscopy and Tissue Optics (GE, IM)
  • PHYSICS 621: Advanced Optics

In the News

Representative Publications

  • Capel, B, Preface., vol 134 (2019), pp. xiii-xvii [10.1016/S0070-2153(19)30050-X] [abs].
  • Wax, A, Oct promising as clear point-of-care solution, Biophotonics International, vol 25 no. 6 (2018), pp. 30-33 [abs].
  • Steelman, ZA; Eldridge, WJ; Wax, A, Response to Comment on "Is the nuclear refractive index lower than cytoplasm? Validation of phase measurements and implications for light scattering technologies": A Comment on "How a phase image of a cell with nucleus refractive index smaller than that of the cytoplasm should look like?", e201800033., Journal of Biophotonics, vol 11 no. 6 (2018) [10.1002/jbio.201800091] [abs].
  • Zhou, Y; Zhao, Y; Kim, S; Wax, A, Spectroscopic OCT: Towards an effective tool for distinguishing authentic and artificial Chinese freshwater pearls, Optical Materials Express, vol 8 no. 3 (2018), pp. 622-628 [10.1364/OME.8.000622] [abs].
  • Kim, S; Crose, M; Eldridge, WJ; Cox, B; Brown, WJ; Wax, A, Design and implementation of a low-cost, portable OCT system., Biomedical Optics Express, vol 9 no. 3 (2018), pp. 1232-1243 [10.1364/boe.9.001232] [abs].