February 2024 BME Blaze: Yannan Chen

Feb 26 2024

In this monthly spotlight, get to know the alumni and students of Columbia's Department of Biomedical Engineering. Read what our BME folks are up to, from our labs' latest research, to our students' plans for the future, to our teams' innovations, start-ups and other career successes. We enjoyed catching up with Columbia BME PhD Candidate, Yannan Chen as he discussed his experience at Columbia BME. Read below to get to know Yannan!


B.Eng., Biomedical Engineering, Zhejiang University, 2017
M.S., Biomedical Engineering, Columbia University, 2018
Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering, Columbia University, In progress


Where are you from?

I’m from Nanjing, located in the eastern part of China. Nanjing is known for its rich historical landscapes and waters, including Fuzimiao, the Ming Palace, and the Qinhuai River.


What drew you to the field of Biomedical Engineering?

Before starting my undergraduate studies, I was fascinated by the potential of modern technology to demystify biological systems. The prospect of developing engineering tools that could provide deeper insights into the most complex system known - the brain - captured my imagination. What drew me to the field of Biomedical Engineering was the idea that my work could contribute to advancing our understanding of the brain and potentially lead to breakthroughs in treating neurological disorders. This blend of technical challenge and meaningful impact is what motivates me to pursue a career in this field.


What is your current role?

I’m currently pursuing my PhD in Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University, working under the guidance of Dr. Raju Tomer. My research focuses on developing innovative tools for uniform labeling, high- throughput light sheet imaging, and comparative analysis of large brain samples.


Why did you choose Columbia BME?

I chose Columbia's Biomedical Engineering program because it offers a strong connection between engineering and neuroscience, particularly through the vibrant community at the Zuckerman Institute. This environment perfectly aligns with my academic background and research interests. Besides, Columbia is a nexus for scientific dialogue, offering plentiful engaging talks, symposiums and events. Additionally, there are so many things to do in New York (Broadway shows, Met Opera, concerts, etc).


What were some of your favorite projects/memories from the program?

I still remember the cruise trip with the night view of Manhattan during the PhD interview. Also sipping piña coladas on a sunny day aboard the Baylander during BME retreat is memorable.


What was your proudest moment at Columbia?

One of my proudest moments at Columbia was when other labs collaborated with us utilizing the microscope I had built. Building a functional microscope was an achievement in itself, but seeing others excited about its performance and realizing its scientific value took my excitement to the next level.


How has your experience with Columbia BME contributed towards your goals?

Columbia BME's rigorous training and supportive environment on innovation have significantly advanced my journey towards becoming an independent researcher. The program has enhanced my ability to translate theories into experiments, acquire new skills, and apply them effectively. This has bolstered my confidence in conducting research and tackling complex questions.


What are your thoughts on the strength of Columbia BME's alumni network and how has that influenced your career path?

Columbia BME has a large and diverse alumni network, encompassing individuals across various sectors. It has made it incredibly accessible for seeking advice and insights into experiences in both industry and academia. The alumni panels have been invaluable, offering detailed information on job seeking, interview preparation, and career planning.


Any words of wisdom or tips for prospective BME students?

Work life balance is important. It's challenging to manage your responsibilities effectively if you're constantly exhausted. Setting clear boundaries between work and leisure time and ensuring you take regular breaks is crucial. In New York, I've found inspiration by taking walks in museums, botanical gardens, or just along Riverside Park. These moments of calm allow me to sort through my thoughts and often lead to my most creative ideas.


What are you excited about?

I'm excited about the rapid advancements in brain-wide mapping research. The pace at which this field is evolving presents numerous opportunities for significant contributions. I'm eager to be involved at the forefront of these developments, pushing the boundaries of what we know about the brain.


Photo Credit: Yannan Chen

1. My headshot
2. Tomer Lab lunch, 2023

3. Running a half marathon in Yonker Marathon 2022
4. Team photo for CBS & EGSC Columbia Hackathon 2019
5. Lab members watching 2022 World Cup



Columbia BME's rigorous training and supportive environment on innovation have significantly advanced my journey towards becoming an independent researcher.

Yannan Chen
PhD Candidate

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