The Medical Imaging Researcher

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Spotlight on Hidden Physicists

The Medical Imaging Researcher


Pragalv Karki, Research Scientist, Mayo Clinic of Rochester

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Pragalv Karki. Photo courtesy of Karki.

Hello and namaste. I am originally from Nepal, a small country renowned for being the birthplace of Buddha, the home of the Himalayas, and a sovereign nation throughout history. Nepal's breathtaking mountains and waterfalls always inspire a sense of calm in me. 

After reading Carl Sagan's Cosmos in high school, I became fascinated with physics. One of the things from the book that amazed me was how the ancient Greek mathematician Eratosthenes calculated the earth's radius using simple geometry. Following high school, I decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in physics in the United States at Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM). I found the faculty to be exceptionally compassionate. In the final year of my degree, I was inducted into Sigma Pi Sigma in recognition of my academic performance and involvement with the Society of Physics Students' outreach activities. I am extremely grateful to the organization and the faculty for that.

As if the Minnesota cold wasn't enough, I enrolled at the University of North Dakota for a graduate degree. My PhD advisor and the faculty provided me with comprehensive training in theoretical and computational methods. Consequently, I was able to explore broader areas for postdoctoral positions. My first postdoc was at the University of Oregon (UO) and involved developing theoretical and computational frameworks in phononic metamaterials. It was during my time at UO that I became familiar with the field of biophysics. By the time I applied for my second postdoc, I had become so interested in the field that I mostly applied for positions related to biophysics.

Surprisingly, however, this change did not lead to a position in biophysics but rather a position as a medical imaging researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. I am a member of a group led by the inventor of an imaging technique called magnetic resonance elastography (MRE). MRE is an MRI-based technique that allows in vivo assessment of a tissue’s viscoelastic properties by applying acoustic waves. Clinically, the technology is used in the diagnosis of liver diseases. 

My research focuses on applications of MRE to brain disorders such as normal pressure hydrocephalus, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease. The goal of our research is to solve fundamental problems in medical imaging by combining data science, medicine, biology, and physics. In a large group of approximately 20 researchers, I am the only traditional physicist among a group of doctors, medical physicists, engineers, and data scientists. Physics and physics-based computational methods are critical in several aspects of the technology.

A physics education provides a broad range of skills. My degree in physics combined with my computational skills enabled me to make these career transitions. During my PhD program, I not only learned physics, but I also learned how to learn. That gives me confidence in learning new subjects and techniques. Every single day I find myself incredibly enthused to be working on challenging problems that could improve health care and benefit others at the best hospital in the United States and beyond. 

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