UofM’s Dr. Ana Doblas Receives $593,239 NSF CAREER Award

Developing Innovative Imaging System and Advancing the Field of Optical Engineering

March 4, 2021 — Dr. Ana Doblas, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (EECE) in the Herff College of Engineering, was recently awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award in the amount of $593,239 for her project titled, “Three-dimensional super-resolution light microscopy of thick, unprocessed biological samples.”

Supported by Drs. Amy Abell and Omar Skalli from the UofM Department of Life Sciences, Doblas and her team will develop an innovative imaging system for unstained cells, tissues and organs. Current imaging systems cannot image thick unstained biological samples with high resolution resulting in the distortion of cell size and shape and the inability to view the dynamic changes and behaviors occurring in 3D cell-shapes.

The proposed instrumentation will enable, for the first time, imaging of thick, unstained biological samples with subcellular accuracy. This novel capacity will significantly expand knowledge of cell behavior in 3D systems, helping biological researchers to understand unknown issues surrounding cell motility, behavior and regulation in 3D environments that mimic the spatial organization of human organs. In addition, the proposed studies in murine blastocysts will be applicable to the intensively utilized human blastocysts used for in vitro fertilization and assisted reproductive technologies.

“I am so excited and honored to receive funding and support from the National Science Foundation,” said Doblas, principal investigator (PI) on the project. “The intellectual merit of our proposed imaging system includes novel advances in hardware and computational methods.

“The evaluation of our proposed system will be performed using calibrated manufactured objects and relevant biological specimens including human neuroblastoma cells, primary murine stem cells and murine blastocysts. Our interdisciplinary team will systematically compare images obtained with the proposed instrumentation with images from existing methods including confocal microscopy, the Lionheart FX system, and the NanoLive platform.”

Dr. Rick Sweigard, dean of the Herff College of Engineering, said, “In addition to the project’s significant research component, the CAREER Award includes education and outreach specific to advancing the field of optical engineering. I am thrilled that the NSF recognized Dr. Doblas’ involvement of high school, undergraduate and graduate students who will learn more about optical engineering and the career pathways associated with this often invisible field.  

Five educational activities specific to this CAREER award include:

  • Developing of an online “Optical Engineering Certificate,” offered by the Herff College of Engineering
  • Producing a summer workshop in Advanced Optical Microscopic Techniques matching curriculum offerings from courses in EECE, Physics, Biology and Biomedical Engineering at the UofM
  • Creating a high school STEM club at Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis to develop science projects related to optical engineering
  • Launching a partnership with the Museum of Science and History – Pink Palace,
    an accredited member of the American Association of Museums, to educate the general public regarding optics and microscopy
  • Offering summer internship opportunities for undergraduate students at the University of Memphis, exposing students to research and careers associated with optical engineering.

Additional programming includes employment opportunities for UofM undergraduate and graduate students. For the five-year duration of the program award, Doblas and UofM students will develop research, education and scientific outreach videos using YouTube. The videos will demonstrate how to build imaging systems and use optical tools. The videos will be available in both English and Spanish.


The NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation's most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. Activities pursued by early-career faculty should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.