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#FacesofPhotonics: University of Arizona Cancer Researcher Kelli Kiekens

Kelli Kiekens
SPIE’s #FacesofPhotonics is a showcase across social media that connects SPIE members in the optics and photonics community around the world.

It serves to highlight similarities, celebrate differences, and foster a space for conversation and community to thrive.

This week on #FacesofPhotonics we are sharing the story of Kelli Kiekens, researcher at the University of Arizona in Dr. Barton's lab. From searching for a way to detect cancer earlier, to ballroom dancing, Kelli is a woman of many talents.

We hope you enjoy her interview.

1. Tell us about when you first became interested in optics and photonics.

During my undergraduate education, my senior design class concentrated on various topics within optics. The group project for that semester was a study of holography where we created different types of holograms using a few different methods. 


The hologram Kelli made in her senior design class

We could then compare the quality of the holograms and see which were better. The part of this project that caught my attention is when we created two different holograms on the same plate just by changing the angle of the light incident on the plate. This was the start of understanding holographic data storage which I found fascinating and could see great potential for in the future.

2. Share your favorite outreach or volunteer story.


Kelli and her friend at Laser Fun Day
demonstrating a "Laser Waterfall"
The student optics chapter at the University of Arizona hosts an outreach activity called Laser Fun Day. This past year I volunteered to make and display a "laser waterfall". This demonstration shows the concept of total internal reflection by using a laser pointer and watching the light bounce off the air water interface as a spout of water falls into another container. The children enjoyed being able to put their hands in the waterfall and see the light on their hands.


Working in the lab on a micro-endoscope

3. Explain your current research, and how it can impact society. 


Ovarian cancer goes largely undetected until late stages largely due to a lack of screening capabilities. Women at high risk will undergo surgery to remove the ovaries as early as 35 years old without confirmation of cancer being present. This can cause sudden onset menopause which can cause physiological and psychological stress as well as taking away the ability to bear children in pre-menopausal women.

Our lab works to develop micro-endoscopes that contain multiple imaging methods to effectively diagnose cancer in early stages while also being minimally invasive. Women at a high risk for ovarian cancer will be able to undergo routine screenings to prolong surgery for as long as possible. 


Kelli's and her dance partner at
a ballroom competition

4. Share an unexpected discovery you’ve made in your life, either scientific or personal.


Having hobbies outside of work has been helpful for reducing my stress levels as well as staying active. I am involved in ballroom dancing which has introduced me to a wide variety of people of all age ranges. I have been very surprised by the number of people who work in STEM fields who also enjoy ballroom dancing.

About half of the Ballroom Dance Team at the University of Arizona is in a STEM field. Dancing is a pastime that we all share, including my dance partner who is a computer programmer.





You can follow along with past and upcoming stories on SPIE social media channels:







Or search #FacesofPhotonics on your favorite social network!

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