Shalin Mehta

Platform Director for Advanced Optical Microscopy

How did you become interested in science?

My parents encouraged habits of reading and tinkering. I read diverse books, everything from comic books to Indian epics. When I was in school, my father was working on electronic automation of industrial processes. For instance, if a company is manufacturing something out of plastic, how can the whole process be automated? This was the trend at the time in Europe and my father worked for a company that had German roots.

I learned from him how to map circuits and replace components. Soon I was fixing household appliances in the neighborhood. I was even fortunate enough to receive a hand-me-down computer, an old Intel. I figured out how to install a new Linux operating system on it and developed a habit of programming.

What was your educational path?

In India, you choose your path in high school. I chose the science stream. I got a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a master’s degree in information theory, both in the state of Gujarat where I grew up.

Those degrees prepared me for a career in signal processing. I started working as a designer of electronic systems that track targets. These were radar-based tracking methods. I worked for a defense company doing this for about one year. After working with one-dimensional signals, I wanted to pursue multidimensional signals. So, I applied to graduate programs in magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound imaging, and optical imaging. I found a great mentor, Colin Sheppard, at National University of Singapore. So, I moved to Singapore to study for Ph.D. in optics and biological microscopy.

Around summer 2010, I went to the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts to explore biological applications of an imaging method I had developed in Singapore. I thoroughly enjoyed my interactions with Shinya Inoué, Rudolf Oldenbourg, Tomomi Tani, and wider Woods Hole community. While I was there, I became very interested in the question of how living systems achieve directed functions by tuning the alignment of biological molecules.

In 2011, I went back to Woods Hole with a Human Frontier Science Program fellowship to study this question. The cells move in a specific direction and divide at a specific location, and this direction comes from nanoscale order of biomolecules. Imaging molecular order in live cells was a challenge, which I addressed with my colleagues at MBL. The fellowship and MBL’s collegial environment gave me an opportunity to interact with leading biologists and examine important problems in biology.

In 2014, I became Assistant Research Scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory and continued my work there.

 What brought you to CZ Biohub?

I was looking for an opportunity to move into a scientific leadership position. I heard about CZ Biohub and became very intrigued. Everyone I talked with during my interview was exceptionally talented and very collegial. I subscribe to its mission: overcome bottlenecks in life sciences. I am also excited about the Cell Atlas project. If mankind wants to understand living systems, then we have to understand the “machinery” of the unit of life. I am interested in designing imaging and computational methods that will impact questions that are fundamentally and clinically important. This is the work that CZ Biohub is doing.

Biology is in some ways the toughest frontier. I was already working in a collaborative environment and I wanted to continue doing so.

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?

I spend any free time with my family. My son, who is eight, likes to ride bikes and catch crabs. I have also become a sparring partner for him as he is learning martial arts. Photography is a hobby of mine. I am interested in immersive photography, for example. I like to experiment with the Google Cardboard Camera app. Also, during my time at MBL, I began participating in outreach events with elementary and high school-aged kids. I get the sharpest questions from kids. I want to continue interacting with students.

Educational Background

  • BEng – Gujarat University
    Electronics and Communication Engineering
  • MTech – DA-IICT (Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of ICT)
    Information and Communication Technology
  • PhD – National University of Singapore
    Bioengineering, Bioimaging
  • Human Frontier Science Program Post Doctoral Fellow – Marine Biological Laboratory
    Computational microscopy of order in living systems