Muyinatu Bell: The 2021 SPIE Early Career Achievement Award – Academic Focus
Since being avidly recruited to her current position as director of the Photoacoustic and Ultrasonic Systems Engineering (PULSE) Lab at Johns Hopkins University in 2016, Muyinatu Bell has established a vibrant and well-funded research lab, already making four significant contributions: novel photoacoustic imaging techniques to guide surgery; theoretical development for coherence-based imaging approaches to improve image quality; integration of photoacoustic imaging with robotic surgical systems; and applying deep-learning approaches to ultrasound and photoacoustic image formation. Her research breaks new ground in the fundamental understanding of technology designs, image quality requirements, and innovative light delivery systems that attach to surgical tools to transmit laser energy directly to the surgical site. She is the first to demonstrate the benefits of photoacoustic-guided surgery for neurosurgeries, gynecological surgeries, spinal fusion surgeries, liver surgeries, pancreatic surgeries, cardiac catheter-based interventions, and a multitude of teleoperated robotic surgeries. In addition to technology development for photoacoustic-guided surgeries, Bell is pioneering new signal processing techniques for photoacoustic-guided surgeries to visualize tool tips and blood vessel targets, including deep learning techniques and techniques that incorporate short-lag special coherence beamforming, a technique that Bell initially developed and patented for ultrasound images as a graduate student.
In addition to Bell's outstanding technical achievements in the optics community, she also provides exceptional professional service as an SPIE session chair, program-committee member, special-session organizer, and reviewer for the SPIE publications the Journal of Biomedical Optics and the Journal of Applied Remote Sensing, as well as being an editorial board member of Photoacoustics. Her rapidly growing cache of prestigious and highly regarded awards include an MIT Technology Review Innovators Under 35 honor, an NSF CAREER Award, an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow award, an NIH Trailblazer Award, and an ORAU Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award.
"I have known Dr. Bell since she was a postdoc at Johns Hopkins when she invited me to join her mentoring team for the NIH K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award that she won in 2015. Since her start as an independent tenure-track faculty member, Dr. Bell has been on an exponentially increasing upward trajectory," says Jin U. Kang, the Jacob Suter Jammer Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Johns Hopkins. "She impressively carved a new research area of photoacoustic-guided surgery in the relatively short time span of her independent career. In light of her excellent track record to date, including her high research standards, her ability to think creatively to overcome research obstacles, and her passionate delivery of highly innovative and clinically useful technology, Dr. Bell is a shining star and an inspiration to our field. I expect her work to have lasting impact for years to come."