This week in Another Wavelength, we chat with 1st year Ph.D. student Dominique "Nikki" Galvez. Nikki is advised by Professor Jennifer Barton.
Where are you from?
I like to say I’m sort of from Tucson, sort of from Gilbert. I grew up in the Gilbert area, but my family is from Tucson, with grandparents here, so it’s always been my home at heart. I just graduated with my Bachelors in Optical Sciences & Engineering from the U of A this past May!
What brought you to study optics?
As a junior in high school, I came to the Engineering Summer Academy, thinking I’d like to go into ECE, but during the optics activity day, I wandered into the Undergraduate Study Lounge for a snack. While enjoying my Quaker Oats chocolate chip granola bar, I laid eyes on the poster on the wall showing off a holographic Goomba, Koopa Troopa, and Mario. My granola bar fell to the floor - this was it, this was the future! From that moment on my mind was made. I knew nothing at all about optics, the study of ‘manipulating light’ felt like something out of science fiction. I thought “wow… this is the future right here, and I want to be a part of it”, and here I am today!
Who is your hero in science?
One of my heroes in science is Adam Savage, who is more of a science communicator, but my hero nonetheless. I look up to his excitement about science, and his positivity when encouraging others in their scientific journeys. I had the opportunity to meet him at Phoenix Comicon a few years ago. He asked me if I made my costume. I said yes, and joked about my not-grenades on my belt, which earned a throw-his-head-back-and-laugh reaction from Adam (I could have died happily in that moment). I thanked him for inspiring me, and that I’m an engineer now, and love science because of him and the other Mythbusters. After taking the picture, he told me to “Keep going, and never, ever stop creating”. It’s in my Top 10 life moments so far, and I hope to instill the same joy and passion for science in others as he had to me.
Describe your research in 20 words or fewer.
A classic quote from my all-fiber OCT probe building: “I break tiny pieces of glass into smaller pieces of glass.”
Describe your research in 200 words or fewer.
I design and build micro-endoscopes for the detection of ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer currently has no reliable screening method, so our sub-millimeter endoscopes will one day fulfill this purpose. Studies have shown that some types of ovarian cancers begin in the fallopian tubes. For this reason, the endoscopes I work on are small and flexible enough to traverse through the natural passageways of the body, and into the fallopian tubes to take data. The designs typically include reflectance imaging for navigating through the body, fluorescence imaging for identifying regions of suspicious tissue, and Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) for performing an ‘optical biopsy’. My current project, the CAFE Grande (Cell Acquiring Fallopian Endoscope), does not use OCT, instead using a tiny wire to collect cells from the suspicious site for further analysis. With these advancements, screening for ovarian cancer can become a simple process, with doctors able to see and test any suspect tissue in a minimally invasive manner.
Name three neat facts about you.
- I love to be creative in my free time. I enjoy cosplaying and making my own costumes.
- I'm a second degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do.
- In another life, I’m a graphic designer. I’ve won gold in state and competed nationally in SkillsUSA Advertising Design competitions. Weird flex, right? I like to blend my background in design with my current work in engineering, creating works that communicate scientific findings in the clearest way possible. I also use it for the causes I care about, like advertising the events for clubs around campus, like Women in Optics.