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Arthur H. Guenther Congressional Fellowship

The Optical Society / SPIE

SchafferTerm: 2012-2013

Chris Schaffer

Chris Schaffer is currently an Associate Professor in the Biomedical Engineering Department at Cornell University. He studied physics as an undergraduate at the University of Florida, where he worked with Prof. David Reitze on the development of techniques for the temporal shaping of very short duration laser pulses. He was honored with the Apker Award from the American Physical Society for outstanding achievements as an undergraduate physics student as well as the Outstanding Four Year Scholar award from the University of Florida.

Chris attended graduate school in physics at Harvard University as a National Defense Science and Engineering Fellow, where he worked with Prof. Eric Mazur. His research focused on the physics of the interaction of short duration laser pulses with transparent materials as well as on applications in the micromachining of transparent materials and in the targeted ablation of biological structures. His Ph.D. work was honored by the OSA/New Focus Student Award, which recognizes research excellence and leadership in the optics community. Also while at Harvard, Chris became interested in education reform and adopted many of the innovative, active learning strategies for teaching undergraduate physics that have been developed by Prof. Mazur.

Chris completed his post-doctoral work at the University of California, San Diego, where he worked with Profs. David Kleinfeld, Jeff Squier, and Patrick Lyden, and became increasingly interested in applying physical science methods and ways of thinking to biological problems. His research focused on the use of optical techniques for visualizing and manipulating blood flow in live rodents and on the study of the blood flow changes that result from the occlusion of small blood vessels in the brain. This work has helped to create a much-needed animal model of small stroke, and has enabled studies that elucidate mechanisms of brain cell death and dysfunction after small stroke as well as the testing of potential therapeutics.

In 2006, Chris joined the faculty at Cornell University, where his lab’s research focuses on elucidating the cellular dynamics that underlie a variety of neurological diseases through optics-based studies in animal models. Current work includes projects that focus on Alzheimer’s disease, small stroke, epilepsy, spinal cord injury, and cancer metastasis. The lab also develops new optical methods for quantitative imaging and targeted manipulation of cells and other biological structures that are applied in live animal studies. Chris runs a highly interdisciplinary lab that includes scientists from diverse academic backgrounds including neurobiology, engineering, and physics. His lab also collaborates widely with physicists, engineers, neurobiologists, physicians, and surgeons.

In his time at Cornell, Chris has also worked to develop and implement novel strategies for undergraduate and graduate education that foster active engagement of students during class and focus on helping students develop the capability and skills to do creative scientific work as part of the class. For these efforts, Chris has received teaching awards from both the College of Engineering at Cornell and from the American Society for Engineering Education.

As the OSA/SPIE Arthur Guenther Congressional Fellow for 2012-2013, Chris looks forward to providing the perspective of a professional scientist and educator to policymakers and to learning about the process and constraints of policymaking. He is particularly interested in contributing to efforts to reform science education, at grade school through college levels, to both increase the retention of women and underrepresented minorities in science and to help students understand science as a dynamic, creative process for discovery rather than a static collection of facts and figures.