A Tale of Two Topics: Innovating Medical Imaging and Broadening Access to Research

February 9, 2024

Prof. Zara's quad sheet explaining his research in and out of the lab

Professor Jason Zara exemplifies the diverse research interests of GW Engineering faculty through his two vastly different research thrusts. In the Laboratory for Optical and Acoustic Imaging, he investigates the application of novel instrumentation and computing techniques to medical imaging applications. Prof. Zara’s laboratory research focuses on a wide range of optical and acoustic imaging technologies and image analysis in optical coherence tomography and MRI and studies the diagnosis and therapy of multiple health conditions, including oral and bladder cancers and epilepsy. Much of this work is conducted in conjunction with collaborators at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

When Prof. Zara is not innovating medical imaging, he leads a multi-institutional effort to develop tools that improve the access and quality of undergraduate research experiences. This effort is part of a project supported by a $2.024 million grant from the Kern Family Foundation titled “Research for All(R4A),” for which GW is the lead institution and Prof. Zara is the Principal Investigator. Its goal is to broaden participation in undergraduate research with three complementary and interrelated tasks to develop entrepreneurially minded(EM)-focused undergraduate research frameworks and tools, including i) EM-focused course-based engineering research experiences (URCurious), ii) EM-focused training modules that bolster student and faculty skills for improved quality and impact of these research projects (URSkilled), and iii) an online platform that connects students, faculty, and industry partners to enable and scale-up internal and external research collaborations (URConnected). The project aims to substantially increase access to meaningful and impactful research opportunities for undergraduate students at GW and our partner institutions.

Both of Prof. Zara’s research thrusts are inherently interdisciplinary. His laboratory research has involved collaborations with faculty from the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, GWMedical School, and GW Hospital, in addition to a Children’s National Medical Center. Research for the R4A project involves GW and seven other universities, including George Fox University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Olin College of Engineering, University of Washington-Tacoma, The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Campbell University, and Valparaiso University. Such interdisciplinarity will drive significant results that positively impact society in and outside the classroom.