Status: Doctoral student at the University of Michigan
Department: Biomedical Engineering
Hometown: Nanjing, China
Undergrad Institution/Degree: Applied Biology at Hong Kong Baptist University
Most previously epidemic diseases are now eradicated or treatable because their cells, which don’t look or behave like human cells, couldn’t escape detection. Cancer, however, cannot be detected or removed so easily. PhD student Quan Zhou is developing an innovative imaging strategy to detect the most minute differences between early-stage cancer cells and normal cells, using photoacoustic imaging to hear and listen to the sound of cancer. Her research at the University of Michigan specifically detects liver cancer, which currently has a five-year survival rate of 5% because patients typically don’t identify the cancer until its latest stages.
Growing up, Quan was fascinated by her parents’ work as engineers and professors, and had always been inspired by heroic career paths that saved lives. She believes in the Chinese philosophies of seeking truth, wisdom and clarity in life, and she studied applied biology in undergraduate school to pursue its dynamic mysteries and challenges. When she came to U-M, she pursued biomedical engineering and cancer research to fulfill her personal and career aspirations of saving people. Instead of accomplishing this feat one household at a time, engineering and science allows her to save lives worldwide. She feels lucky to have seen the entire process of her translational research while pursuing her PhD, and anticipates that her technology will be used in human patients in 2017.
Outside of the lab, Quan encourages women and young girls to enter STEM fields and involves herself in communities of female leaders. She served on the executive board of the Society of Women Engineers’ (SWE) graduate component as a professional development co-chair for two years and as treasurer for one year. While on SWE’s executive board, she noticed female students from many male-led engineering departments needed to connect with female faculty and could benefit from personal, academic and career advice. She established a faculty and student mixer for women in engineering at U-M, which provides a space for women to share fresh perspectives and insights with one another every semester.
For both her academic excellence and commitment to community through service and leadership, Quan has been a member of the Tau Beta Pi National Engineering Honor Society for 12 semesters. She has been awarded the most outstanding member of the society and spearheaded a project that provides volunteer translation resources for elderly Chinese members of the Ann Arbor community at Kiwanis International. Quan also taught engineering courses as a GSI for three semesters and enjoyed exploring unconventional teaching methods with her professor. She is very involved in health and fitness, and is competing with the U-M Table Tennis Club this academic year. She has also served as the club’s treasurer and safety officer for two years, and she competed in the NCTTA Great Lakes Regional Tournament in February 2016.
“Knowing that my work is so important and desperately needed around the world is what gets me up in the morning. I realize that the human factor is the most important part of engineering,” Quan says. She considers science her lifelong passion, and values truth-seeking, communication with other people and making real-world impact as priorities in her future career.