Alumni Profiles

Bernard Choi, M.S.E. '98 & PhD '01

Bernard Choi

    Bernard Choi

Bernard Choi, who grew up in the Chicago area, describes his time as a graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin as the complete opposite of his undergraduate experience at Northwestern University. He went from a private school to a public university with the largest student body at the time. It was also his first experience away from home.

"People at UT Austin were fantastic," he says. "The experience of being at a big school was new and as a sports fan coming from a Big 10 school, Longhorn football and basketball games were a plus."

As an undergraduate student studying biomedical engineering at Northwestern, Choi completed work in lasers and ablation. Due in part to his own poor eyesight, he was most interested in how lasers could be used for eye therapy.

"So many people out there working in the biomedical engineering industry have a personal experience or a loved one affected by something that inspires them to do what they do," he says.

Upon completing his undergrad, he began researching professors who were conducting work in his new interest of biomedical optics and biophotonics, which led him to The University of Texas at Austin to work with Professor A.J. Welch and Grady Rylander.

With Welch as his principal investigator, Choi studied how light interacts with tissues from a thermal standpoint. For his master's degree, he studied temperature infrared imaging associated with laser ablation of the skin.

"For my PhD, I looked at what was on the horizon to get diagnostic information and ways to treat skin conditions."

As a recipient of a Beckman Fellowship, Choi conducted postdoctoral research at University of California Irvine, where he worked with Dr. J. Stuart Nelson on eliminating port wine stain birthmarks by using infrared cameras to come up with 3D images. The birthmarks, which usually cover large areas on the face and neck, are prone to bleeding if left untreated and can cause disfigurement.

Choi is now an Associate Professor at UC Irvine currently developing different imaging strategies for microvasculature. The origin of disease is tied to the microvasculature, which is responsible for the cellular exchange of nutrients. Specific areas of Choi's research include: port wine birthmark elimination, tissue engineering, pancreatic islet transplantation for diabetes, studying blood supply in teeth, and microvasculature of the heart and esophagus.

Now teaching his own lab of about 20 undergrads, he integrates challenge-based teaching methods that he first became aware of from Professor Ken Diller, former chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

"The community that formed in the basement of ENS Building was transforming," he says. "I developed confidence in my skills as a scientist and as an engineer and figured out the type of environment I wanted to have in my own research group."