Introduction of the Board Members: Selim Ünlü

On behalf of the editorial team of TASSA, we are pleased to introduce the members of our Board of Directors, who have agreed to graciously share their thoughts on TASSA and its activities, as well as information about themselves with our readership.  In this issue we feature Selim Ünlü, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering at Boston University.

The Bridge:  Could you please give us a brief summary of your background?
Selim Ünlü: The roots of my interest in science and engineering goes back to high school years at Ankara Fen Lisesi. My engineering education started at Middle East Technical University.   I enjoy my work tremendously and I wish I could say that I have made carefully considered decisions all along. I chose Electrical Engineering since that was the highest regarded technical degree at the time. During my undergraduate studies, I worked as a part-time research engineer with ASELSAN where I gained practical experience and learned about the importance of teamwork for the success of research and development projects.  After completing my bachelor’s degree, I came to the US for graduate studies. I ended up at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where I completed my MS and PhD degrees also in electrical engineering.  I completed my PhD in 1992, and since then, I have been a faculty member at Boston University. Currently, I am a Distinguished Professor of Engineering with primary appointment in Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. I also have appointments in Physics, Biomedical Engineering, Material Science and Engineering, and Graduate Medical Sciences.

T.B. : Could you also summarize your research program/area of study?  
S. Ü. : Overarching theme of my research interests is photonics. My laboratories are in the BU Photonics Center. I have always enjoyed working in multidisciplinary teams and I have trained PhD students and postdocs in electrical, computer, biomedical, mechanical engineering, material science, physics, chemistry and molecular biology. There are two major current areas of research in my laboratory. In the more traditional electrical engineering part of my research, we apply high-resolution optical imaging techniques for fault isolation of semiconductor integrated circuits (IC). We have developed a backside imaging technique for ICs. Silicon (Si) is transparent to light at infrared (IR) wavelengths longer than 1 μm. Because Si ICs are typically coated with opaque metal layers, techniques that image IC features through the back side of the wafer with IR light are valuable for inspection. Conventional microscopes are limited to a resolution on the order of half a wavelength of light, or 0.5 μm for backside inspection of ICs—a limit far too coarse for today's lithographic feature sizes, which are reaching down to less than 100nm. We have developed a solid immersion technique and demonstrated record resolution allowing for fault isolation in 22nm IC technology node. Our work is continuing to develop new innovative techniques for optical testing and verification of ICs using tricks in nano-photonics.

The other major area is biophotonics. We developed a new biosensing platform Interferometric Reflectance Imaging Sensor (IRIS) with the ability to detect single nanoscale particles captured on a layered sensor surface. The layered surface, acting as a planar optical antenna, allows for drastic enhancement of the visibility of nanoparticles otherwise not detectable by a conventional optical microscope. The principles of our technique are rooted in wave nature of light and interference – the same property that gives soap bubbles rainbow colors.  In a simple optical sensor system, we achieve multiplexed digital diagnostics. The new frontier in biomarker analysis is single-molecule counting or digital detection, an approach that provides resolution and sensitivity that are not obtainable with ensemble measurements. Digital detection is a disruptive technology potentially allowing most advanced disease diagnostic tools to become available at a low cost and at the point-of-need. This is similar to how digital audio on compact discs enabled access to the highest-quality music recording. Under biophotonics, we also study the surface conformation of DNA-protein complexes and develop optically powered optoelectronic receivers for applications in wireless neural stimulation.

T.B. : Would you please tell us about your involvement with TASSA, its importance to you, and your vision for the future of TASSA? What, in your opinion, can be done to increase the collaboration and strengthen the bridge between scientists and scholars in Turkey and the Turkish-American scientists and scholar in the US? And how can TASSA, in your opinion, contribute to it?
S. Ü. : I was delighted to learn about TASSA since their vision of building a sustainable science bridge between the U.S. and Turkey resonates with me. My first involvement was in the 2006 meeting  at Drexel University where I led a technical panel on bio-nano technology.  I have been very impressed with the vision, technical quality, dynamism, and dedication of TASSA. As in any organization, TASSA had some ups and downs over the last decade. Currently, I see that the vision and dedication of the early years have returned.  In the efforts to move Turkey out of the middle-income trap, it is essential to transition into a technology economy. The creation of a sustainable bridge between US and Turkey is increasingly more important in accordance with the growing number of Turkish researchers and businessman in the US. The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK) has held several conferences bringing together Turkish scientists working outside the country. Presence of TASSA members was very significant in these meetings. One of the essential areas of research is in life science and engineering. Many Turkish scholars are in key positions in academia across the US. Establishment of Turkish Health Institutions (TUSEB) to enhance knowledge in the area of health sciences and technology for serving humanity and Turkey is a very encouraging recent development. TASSA is poised to harvest the energy and dedication Turkish-American researchers and form a lasting and productive partnership with Turkish counterparts in academia, government and industry.

T.B. :  Are there any project that TASSA is undertaking that you are excited about and why?
S. Ü. :  One of the most impactful projects by TASSA is the annual meeting. I always look forward to these meetings. We are also organized under four technical groups. It would be very timely to consider focusing on life sciences over the last several years and put significant effort towards coordination of collaborative efforts in this area. I believe it is time to renew our dynamism in technical groups.

T.B. :  Could you please tell us about your life outside of your work? Do you have hobbies? What are your favorite activities? If you recommend a book, what would that be and why?
S. Ü. :  Perhaps my most significant appointment is being a father.  I enjoy spending time with my wife Nese and with my son Selim Kemal more than anything else. Over the last few years we have traveled as a family enduring the difficulties of traveling with a young child – he has been on 35 planes by the time he is three years old. We enjoy seeing new places and cultures. 

I always enjoyed sports and outdoors. As any young Turk, I grew up playing soccer on the streets and continued playing in intramural competitions as a graduate student and faculty member. After moving to Boston, I started rowing and skiing. Starting your day rowing on Charles River is extremely invigorating. New England skiing can be very challenging with freezing cold and icy slopes. About 10 years ago, I have started scuba diving and underwater photography. I kick myself for not having done this earlier and for not finding the time and opportunity to do more of it. There is an fascinating world with incredible diversity in the oceans.  I wish that I would have more time to enjoy these activities in the future and with my family.