1. REU-Site: Wellman-HST Summer Institute for Biomedical Optics

In collaboration with the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology (HST), the Wellman Center has run the Summer Institute for Biomedical Optics since 2002.


This program provides undergraduate student participants with research experience in the field of biomedical optics. The program objective is to inspire talented students to pursue advanced research, education, and careers in science and engineering. Faculty mentors offer interdisciplinary cutting-edge research projects in diverse, yet cohesive, themes in biomedical optics.


Twelve undergraduate students admitted each summer pursue full-time laboratory research for nine weeks, working in one of the laboratories at the Wellman Center and MIT. In addition to research, students attend lectures and research seminars, as well as professional development workshops on scientific writing, presentation and research ethics. All student participants are accommodated in the dormitory at the MIT campus, receive weekly stipends, and participate in various peer group activities, making their summer experience go much beyond what could be provided by a typical summer research experience in a single lab.


Research experience in this program is focused on engineering from discovery of new transformative approaches to development of cutting-edge technologies. Innovation in biomedical optics requires understanding of physical and engineering principles, as well as biological and medical insights, to define important challenges and to understand how new technologies must perform. This program takes a coherent and interdisciplinary approach to introducing students to the full spectrum of biomedical optics and help to realize the promise of biomedical optics by attracting talented students to pursue careers in this area at the graduate level and beyond.


Details and an application form can be obtained at the MIT-HST web site.


The 2016 Summer Program ran from June 9 to August 5.


Students must be a sophomore, junior, or senior undergraduate at the time of the program and must also be a United States Citizen or have permanent residence status.



· $4,500 stipend (9 weeks)

· Housing in MIT dormitory

· Travel support up to $400

· Opportunity to present at NSF conference

· Mentor-mentee relationship


The application deadline for 2017 program will be January, 2017.


2. MGH-KAIST Summer Internship Program

In collaboration with the KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) in Korea, we have established a global summer internship program. Each year since 2010, six undergraduate students from KAIST spent 9 weeks in Boston, fully immersed in the multidisciplinary research-oriented environment at the Wellman Center. The students also participated in various social networking and voluntary activities and attended the Biomedical Optics Lecture Series organized by the Wellman Center. This program is funded by KAIST (http://www.kaist.edu) and Wellman Center.


3. MGH-Tokyo Summer Training Program

In collaboration with the University of Tokyo in Japan, we have established a global summer internship program. Each year 3-6 graduate students from Tokyo spent 9 weeks in Boston, broadening their research experience. This program is funded by the Center for Disease Biology and Integrative Medicine (http://www.cdbim.m.u-tokyo.ac.jp/english/index.html) and the Wellman Center.


On September 24th, 2014, the 1st MGH-UTokyo Symposium for Biomedical Engineering took place at MGH to celebrate the 10th anniversary of this summer program.


General Information


Inquires to: BioOpticsSummerInstitute@mgh.harvard.edu


Organization Structure

Executive Director: Prof S. H. Andy Yun

Technical committee chair: Dr. Walfre Franco

Administrative Director: Susan Weeks

Program coordinator: Jim Schulz

Registration: Deana Marzullo

Mentors: All Wellman Faculty



The duration of the summer program is nine weeks, typically lasting from the second week of June until the first week of August. The schedule is optimized to give admitted students sufficient time to prepare before the program starts as well as sufficient time to prepare for the fall semester after the program ends. The detailed schedule is as follows:


The summer schedule (from the second week of June to the first week of August) is as follows:


Summer Research

The students pursue full-time laboratory research during the nine-week period. Each student works in direct connection with faculty mentors as well as graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in the lab. At least one senior student or postdoc is assigned to supervise each student on a daily basis. Each student participates in one summer project with a clearly defined and attainable objective. Typically, summer projects are designed such that students can work with a high degree of independence while leveraging from other ongoing research in the host lab. In general, a student  spends approximately 50% of his or her time in the lab and the other 50% in the office writing, reading, and analyzing data.

           By conducting hands-on experiments, students learn about cutting-edge engineering and technologies applicable to biomedical problems. Equally important, they learn about multidisciplinary research, how it is organized and conducted, and how to communicate with members of a research team with very diverse backgrounds. Students also learn how to think about their problem creatively and how to proactively pursue their research objectives by seeking help from experts, trying out new approaches, developing skills to delve deeper into problems, documenting their efforts, writing up their work for papers and patents, and other strategies. Summer students prepare weekly summaries of their research progress for discussion with their mentor and other lab members during group meetings.


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Summer Research Topics

The Summer Program offers a variety of research projects so that students can choose their projects in consultation with their mentors. These projects span a broad range of cutting-edge topics under four broadly defined areas. (For more detail see http://www2.massgeneral.org/wellman/)


Thrust 1: Intravital Optical Microscopy for Cellular-Level Imaging


In this research area, the projects are focused on developing novel optical instrumentation and methods that address challenges in basic biomedical science and diagnosis. Light is uniquely well suited for non-invasively interrogating the microscopic structure, molecular composition, and biomechanical properties of biological tissues. Realizing these capabilities in practical instruments requires a multidisciplinary approach that addresses specific challenges by integrating advanced concepts from physics, engineering and materials science with biology and clinical experience. Below is a short list of active projects for the students with an academic background particularly in photonics, electrical or biomedical engineering, and physics. Some exemplary projects are as follows:


Improving the resolution of optical coherence tomography. Progress in the understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of disease has been hindered by our inability to observe cells and extracellular components associated with human coronary atherosclerosis in situ. The current standards for microstructural investigation (electron microscopy and histology) are destructive and prone to artifacts. The highest-resolution intracoronary imaging modality, optical coherence tomography (OCT), has a resolution of 10 micron, too coarse for visualizing most cells. The Tearney Lab has been innovating fiber-optic 1-micron resolution OCT for visualizing the cellular and subcellular structures as well as tissue-level morphologies. Research opportunities are available for students for investigating new approaches to enhance the resolution of OCT.


Quantitative high-resolution angiography. Understanding how blood vessels are affected by diseases and how they response to current therapies is of central importance to research in many diseases. The Vakoc Lab has previously demonstrated a method to visualize microvasculature. An exemplary project is exploiting image-processing algorithms to improve the identification of capillaries, measurement of flow speeds and other quantitative information about angiogenesis and vascular responses to therapy.


Wavelength-swept laser development. Innovation of OCT requires continued advances in rapidly tunable laser sources. The Bouma Lab has pioneered such laser sources. A student can pursue an independent project that complements our ongoing effort to improve the tuning range, sweep speed, and linewidth of semiconductor and doped-fiber lasers. For example, a student could design and construct a new class of discrete-mode, wavelength-stepped laser for use in next-generation coherence imaging systems. Through this mentored but independent research activity, the student will learn experimental optics and gain experience in optical testing and measurement. 


In vivo two-photon flow cytometry. The Lin lab has developedan in vivo flow cytometer that is able to detect and quantify fluorescently labeled cells in circulation in real time, without needing to draw blood samples. A student could take on an independent project in our ongoing research on two-photon flow cytometer for label-free detection of tumor cells and white blood cells.


Thrust 2: Bio-inspired Photonic Devices and Cell Lasers


This research area is focused on developing novel photonic devices using principles, materials, and structures that are biologically inspired or bioengineered, implantable, biodegradable, wearable, and that often mimic nature at scales from nano to macro levels. Such devices are primarily used for sensing, diagnostics, and therapeutic applications, solving the limitations of conventional optical devices and conventional approaches. Some exemplary projects are as follows:


Cell laser. The Yun lab has shown that biological media, such as fluorescent proteins in a living cell, can amplify light and serve as gain media to produce laser light. Such bio-lasers and light amplification may lead to many interesting devices and previously unthinkable applications, and we have an active NSF support for this topic of research. For example, we have built a prototype cell-laser cytometer and protein-based sensors, and we are working on several related technologies. For example, a previous summer student has built a miniature dye laser and investigated the effect of a single wild-type E. coli bacterium in the cavity on the laser threshold and output emission patterns.


Biodegradable optical waveguides. When penetrating through tissue, light is quickly attenuated with 1/e-penetration depths of only a few hundred µm. Efficient delivery and collection of light to and from tissue is therefore key to the ultimate success of many biomedical applications of optical techniques. This project is aimed at developing implantable optical waveguides that are capable of delivering light deep into tissue. Made of biomaterials with proven intrinsic biocompatibility and optimized biodegradability, such photonic devices can be implanted in the body for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes and absorbed in situ over time, without the need for invasive removal. One application of such waveguides includes the optogenetic stimulation of implanted cells; another application we are working on involves photochemical tissue bonding at depths beyond the reach of conventional surface illumination. Students working on this topic will design, fabricate, and characterize their own polymer waveguides, and they will acquire knowledge on waveguide optics, biomaterials, nanofabrication, and their applications.


Thrust 3: Optical Methods for Tissue Crosslinking and Cell Biomechanics


Our research focuses on developing photochemical and biophotonic methods to control and measure the biomechanical properties of tissue-engineering materials, tissues, and cells. The biomechanical properties of extra- and intra-cellular matrices and cell scaffolds play important roles in cell migration and mechanotransduction, and they have been linked to a variety of diseases, including atherosclerosis and cancer metastasis. Several engineering projects are available for students that may have long-term impact on the diagnosis and treatment of the related diseases, particularly regarding fundamental knowledge and technical innovation. Students interested in biomaterial engineering, biomedical engineering, chemical engineering, and biophysics will be encouraged to work on these research topics. Some exemplary projects are as follows:


Photo-crosslinking of biopolymers and collagens. The objective of our ongoing research is to develop photochemical crosslinking methods to control the viscoelastic modulus of cell scaffolds in situ and induce crosslinking of native collagen fibers in the tissue for treatments of wounds and diseases. One or two students will be working on a fundamental study of molecular photochemistry and the interaction of light with various materials including hydrogels, electro-spun collagen and silk films and mats and multilayered membranes. They will use fluorescence microscopy to determine cell viability and matrix structure in these materials following crosslinking. The students will also perform biochemical and physical chemical assays for assessing the light-induced changes in cornea and correlate the results with optical properties and mechanical properties of corneas and design and test optical delivery systems.  


Laser speckle evaluation of tissue mechanical properties. Laser speckle imaging measures intrinsic Brownian motions of endogenous scatterers by providing measurements that are linked with tissue viscoelastic properties. One potential project for a student is to investigate the relationship between laser speckle imaging and viscoelastic properties. Tissue scaffolds using collagen, alginate, and fibrin gels will be engineered with spatially varying viscoelastic properties. The results will be validated against rheology and atomic force microscopy. The student would be expected to perform both experimental and theoretical approaches based on quasi-light scattering analysis.


Brillouin optical microscopy for cell biomechanics. The Yun Lab has shown that the frequency shift involved in Brillouin light scattering is highly correlated with the conventional viscoelastic modulus of material measured by conventional invasive rheological or micro-rheological methods. In our ongoing research (led by Dr. Giuliano Scarcelli), we aim to extend this new optical technique to measure the elastic properties of a cell. Another potential project for a student is to characterize the elastic modulus of cells in a three-dimensional microenvironment using confocal Brillouin microscopy.


Thrust 4: Enhancement Strategies in Photodynamic Therapy


Despite the progress over the past decades in detecting and treating cancer, an outstanding problem in oncology is the battle against microscopic metastatic disease. The vast majority of cancer-related deaths are associated with the multitude of disseminated metastatic lesions that occur throughout the body. These lesions are often far too small and widespread to detect and resect, and in many cases become resistant to therapeutic intervention. How these lesions resist treatment is not well understood, as we are currently unable to visualize treatment response on the microscale in vivo. Some exemplary projects are as follows:


Image-based quantification of PDT response. The Hasan Lab is a world-leading group in the field of photodynamic therapy (PDT). The lab is exerting considerable engineering efforts toward the development of online molecular imaging techniques and imaging agents to quantify tumor cell pro-survival signaling during photodynamic therapy of tumor cells. Such tools help us determine the key time points and spatial localizations of the tumor signaling factors responsible for post-treatment survival and disease recurrence. This information in turn can be used to rationally design and optimize new combination treatments. Research opportunities are available for students in the application of a hyperspectral fluorescence microendoscope and the design and construction of target-specific photoactivatable nanoconstructs for both imaging and cancer treatment.


Visualizing hypoxia on the microscale in cancer. Hypoxia is a major cause of treatment resistance in all cancers. However, little is known about the distribution of hypoxia and how this distribution affects therapeutic efficacy. The Evans Lab seeks to overcome these challenges through innovative engineering and imaging approaches to build a comprehensive, cellular-level picture of treatment response and resistance in disseminated metastatic cancer. Past student contributions to the Evans lab have already aided in obtaining critical information that we hope will lead to new therapeutic regimens. Students will work closely with Prof. Evans and his team to map and quantify hypoxia and therapeutic response across several potential projects. In one project, students will have the opportunity to construct a phosphorescence lifetime microscope, and apply the new technology towards imaging oxygen concentrations in cells. In a second project, students develop and apply molecular oxygen probes for deep tissue, cellular-level real-time oxygen imaging.


Professional Development Opportunities


Laser and bio-safety training:           In the first week of the program, participating students attend a half-day mandatory training session on laser, biological, and general laboratory safety, before they are allowed to work in the laboratory. This extensive course explains the proper handling of chemicals and biological samples, protection from biohazards and high-power lasers, fire drills, and more. Emergency contact phone numbers are provided. While the students become fully trained to handle biological samples and are exposed to many aspects of biomedicine through didactic lectures and shadowing sessions, they are not allowed to work with live animals or human tissues, and they do not have access to patients because it would require time-consuming processes such as amendments on protocols and additional training and tests for students.


Summer Lectures: Since 2003,we have been organizing the Summer Biomedical Optics Lecture Series for summer students in WCP. We continue to offer 12 to 14 lectures. The lectures are intended to give students a broad overview of the principles and applications of biomedical optics as well as introduce selected topics in greater depth to highlight the impact of engineering innovation on biomedical sciences and clinical medicine. Lectures are given every Monday and Wednesday (attendance is mandatory), and breakfast is served to students.


Others Seminars: In addition to the core lectures, students are encouraged to attend various seminars in MIT and Harvard, as well as WCP. In particular, WCP offers seminars on Tuesdays at noon, which are open to people who are interested in learning fundamental principles and specific topics in biomedical optics. Following the noon seminars, pizza lunch is provided to the attendees (supported by WCP).          


Community building and Social activities:          Community-building activities play a central role in ensuring that students both enjoy their time here and develop friendships and acquaintances that will continue beyond the summer program. We take a proactive approach to building community over the short summer period. Summer program participants form a cohesive community that is strengthened by their close contact in a variety of settings.



We organize a variety of bi-weekly social activities to help students build a sense of community and to form close friendships (See pictures above). During the Orientation Day, we introduce mentors and staff members to the students and provide them with helpful materials, including a collection of tour guides and a list of various social and cultural events in the city of Boston and on the campuses of MIT and Harvard. Our official social program begins with ‘Dinner Out’ as an icebreaker during the first week. Other notable activities include a barbecue picnic in July with staff members and mentors, a Boston Pops Orchestra Concert on July 4th, and a softball game as a part of All-Wellman Summer Party. Independently, the students are encouraged to develop their own social activities during the weekends. Furthermore, interested students can arrange a visit to different labs in MIT and Harvard as well as to other schools in the Boston area. By the end of the summer, the participating students form close friendships, and many of former students maintain their contacts through Facebook.


Proposal writing and final report:     In the third week of the program, after initial meetings with their research mentors, students develop a one-page research proposal for their summer project. The goal is to guide students in thinking through their research process so that they can reasonably articulate what they are going to do, how they intend to do it, why they are going to do it, what is likely to be concluded, and what additional work is necessary to conclude their projects. The proposal ensures that students and mentors establish a well-defined plan for the student’s summer research experience. In their proposals, students delineate a clear purpose and measurable aims for their research, possible alternative approaches, and expected results. Students write a five-page research report that includes a detailed explanation of their research goals, approach, and findings. Their faculty mentor and instructor review the draft and provide feedback and students submit their final reports in the final week.


Poster preparation:        To help the students improve their communications skills, we organize workshops on writing and research presentation. A group of experienced postdoctoral fellows and faculty members in collaboration with MIT’s Writing and Humanistic Studies Department provide two interactive sessions. Note that students submit a rough draft of their posters in PowerPoint format to the communication instructor and peers during a workshop. The group provides substantive feedback on the content, design, and delivery of the presentation. The goal is for students to articulate a coherent presentation, including the purpose of the project, the methods, the primary findings, a plausible interpretation of those findings, and the potential implications of the findings. In this process, students learn how to present their research findings in different formats using graphical, publishing, and presentation software.


Research presentation: In the final week, students present the results of their summer research to their faculty mentors, post-docs, and other students (see the photo). Each student gives a 10-minute poster presentation to invited judges. The judges select one student from each group who gives the best presentation for the Yao Su Student Research Award, which includes a certificate and $100 gift card from the endowment fund. After the poster session, the mentors award a certificate to their students in person.


Attending professional conferences Students are encouraged to present their reports at their home institution and submit posters to professional conferences. In the past, several students have presented their posters at the Annual Meeting of the Biomedical Engineering Society and SPIE BIOS meetings.


Student-and-faculty interactions: The variety of social and research events we organize throughout the summer ensures that the students and faculty build strong mentor-mentee relationships that can last even after the program ends. Our faculty mentors have maintained long-term relationships with many of their former students and, moreover, have provided recommendation letters for their applications to graduate schools, medical schools, scholarships, and beyond. In fact, 10 students have come back to WCP after receiving their undergraduate degrees as graduate students, postdocs, or research assistants.

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August 8, 2013