Brains Behind the Institute
I was a late-talking child. I had trouble expressing my thoughts, and was very shy about speaking in front of other people.
Because of this, I always dreamed that if I and everyone else had some way to express ourselves without having to move our lips, we would all be really efficient in sharing our thoughts and communicating.
As I grew older, I read more about kids who suffer from autism, as well as patients suffering from locked-in syndrome and other neurological and degenerative diseases that negatively impact communication among people. I felt empathy for them—their struggles seemed similar to my struggles as a child. As an adult, I understood that even people without any disorders of the mind still encounter miscommunications and misunderstandings every day. It’s one of the reasons why we still see a world with bullying and discrimination based on people’s physical traits, and inequality because of someone’s gender, appearance, race, ethnicity or language. We often trust these characteristics instead of what people are actually about.
Getting past these miscommunications was one of the original drivers for the research I’m doing now at the intersection of materials science and neuroscience, developing neuroengineering tools to understand and guide the brain in a minimally invasive way.
My fascination with chemistry started me down this path. I didn’t have access to the best education growing up, so I created a small, very rudimentary chemistry lab in my bedroom. Along with memorable experiments—including one that didn’t clearly exist in any textbooks at the time—there were a few accidental explosions, but fortunately I’m still alive.
I followed this interest into nanochemistry, exploring the fluorescent properties of carbon nanotubes in the lab of Hongjie Dai in the Stanford Department of Chemistry, where our findings led to investigating ways to see through skin into the brain. It was awe-inspiring to think that the work of chemists and physical scientists could also contribute to the spectacular goal of neuroscience: to understand the brain and the mind. If I had known about neuroscience when I was younger, I probably would’ve chosen it as my specialty. But it’s never too late to get one step closer to a dream.