Conner Ballew, who graduates this spring with his master’s degree, has been admitted to Caltech’s Electrical Engineering Ph.D. Program, where he plans to research biophotonics and biomedical imaging.
Ballew will be working with faculty advisor Lihong Wang, whose lab pioneered photoacoustic tomography (PAT), which is a medical imaging technique that combines both light and sound to image human tissue. With applications for early cancer detection, Ballew hopes to focus his research on PAT advancements.
Since high school, Ballew has considered pursuing a Ph.D., but wanted to make sure that he enjoyed both teaching and research before committing. After tutoring physics at the UW Instructional Center for three years, followed by a few TA appointments, he quickly cultivated a passion for teaching.
“It’s a great feeling to see someone you helped through intro physics move on to do awesome things,” Ballew said.
His interest in research took a little longer to cultivate, but once he enrolled in the BS-MS program and joined Professor Lih Lin’s Photonics Lab, Ballew enjoyed playing a more significant role in a research group. During his time in the Photonics Lab, Ballew’s research focused on trapping cells with a nanolaser and creating lasers out of various materials, such as single-atom thick tungsten diselenide and perovskite materials. Since his research involved microfabrication, he spent much time in the UW’s Washington Nanofabrication Facility cleanroom, working on nano-scale devices.
“Microfabricating photonic devices has easily been my favorite part of my academic career,” Ballew said.
Although his Ph.D. degree is a few years away, Ballew plans to work in both industry and academia and is especially interested in the space industry. Luckily enough, Caltech manages the Jet Propulsion Lab for NASA.
“A lot of the techniques and knowledge required for biomedical imaging actually translate quite well to atmospheric imaging and other space-related technologies,” Ballew said.
After a few years of industry experience, Ballew hopes to transition back to academia as research faculty.