Stephen Boppart, 33
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Stephen Boppart grew up in Illinois farm country, where he acquired a get-things-done attitude. His master’s-degree advisor says, “The speed with which he can conceptualize, test and implement is remarkable. ”While simultaneously completing a PhD in medical and electrical engineering at MIT and an MD at Harvard, he published 44 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters. During those seven years, Boppart helped dramatically improve the resolution of optical-coherence tomography, an imaging technique that sends near-infrared laser light into a person’s tissues and then interprets its reflection from structures within. Boppart also converted the hardware into a handheld probe that looks like a laser pointer. Surgeons at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston are using it to see through a patient’s skin before making an incision. Recently Boppart received funding from the Whitaker Foundation, the National Cancer Institute and NASA to determine how to use optical- coherence tomography in cancer diagnosis. He is now developing contrast agents, such as carbon and melanin, that will increase a tumor’s resolution when seen using this technique.