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Ahsan Habib: Graduate Student

Electrical and Computer Engineering
Degree Program: 
Electrical and Computer Engineering
Pabna, Bangladesh
Undergraduate Institution: 
University of Dhaka
Graduate Institution: 
University of California, Santa Cruz
A. Ali Yanik
Graduate Student Ahsan Habib

Ahsan Habib is a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering in Ali Yanik’s lab. He recently published a groundbreaking paper on a new type of probe he helped to develop to detect neural activity at an unprecedented scale. He talked with us about his research, his time at UCSC, and his aspirations for the future. 

What first drew you to electrical engineering? 

One of my career objectives was to contribute to the healthcare industry. I wanted to develop a tool or device that would help to diagnose and treat disease. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your most recent project? What have you developed, and what are its potential applications?

My most recent project is in neurophotonics, which means that I am using photon cell light to detect bioelectric activity of neurons or heart cells.  I use millions of nanoprobes to detect this activity of neurons non-invasively, which means that I don’t do any harm while I am detecting. My new probe has a lot of potential applications but one of the ones I want to mention is that it could help us to develop a high-bandwidth brain/machine interfaces, and we could use that to develop prostheses for people with disabilities. 

What do you find most exciting about this research?

Most exciting to me is that our probe will help us to understand the human brain. The human brain is messy, it consists of hundreds of billions of neurons and trillions of synaptic connections. You need something that will detect bioelectric activity in a larger area with subcellular resolution, and our probe is great, it has the potential of this subcellular resolution over a large area so I think that our probe could help us understand the human brain. 

It is very important to understand the whole human brain if you want to develop neuromorphic computing, a hot topic right now. If you want to emulate the human brain in our computing, or if you want to make prosthetics, you need to understand how neurons talk with each other, so you need to image them, but tracking all of them is huge. State-of-the-art microelectrode arrays are the gold standard technology right now, but they can only image hundreds of electrodes at a time. Our probe has the capability of imaging tens of thousands. If you consider large area measurement, our probe has an order of magnitude larger efficiency. 

Where do you go from here? Do you have a next project planned?

I have several projects, but one project I am very excited about since I am an electrical engineer and I love circuits and quantum electronics is I am trying to develop an electrode that would use electrocatalysis to improve electrochemical reaction in an unconventional manner that no one has done before. I am writing the manuscript and you guys will see that very soon. 

What do you like about doing research at UCSC?

I actually want to mention a couple of things. First, I have experienced a strong multidisciplinary research environment here. That is very helpful considering that my research is multidisciplinary. I also like the availability of the funds. If I have an idea, I don’t need to be limited by a lack of funding. And of course I like the beautiful environment over here. In research you can get frustrated any time, but you just take a walk along West Cliff or on campus and feel refreshed. 

What has been your experience mentoring undergraduate students? 

I have a lot of great memories teaching and mentoring undergraduate students. I will never forget the many lengthy teaching reviews I got and the two outstanding teaching awards I recieved in the last two years. If I ever get upset for any reason, I just read some of those reviews from my students and it gives me a lot of confidence and makes me happy.

What is your dream career after you graduate? 

I love teaching. In elementary school, every day when I came home from school I would try to emulate my teacher with a marker and a whiteboard. When I learn something, the next thing that comes to my mind is how I could help other people to learn that. I see this thing in me from a very young age, so when I think about my career I always think about being a teacher. I want to go back to my country Bangladesh and help people with my research and my teaching. Bangladesh is a developing country, and we need some experts there fostering our initiative to develop our research and especially research in universities. I think all of the experience I have had here will allow me to help our government in their initiative to improve people's lives with research.