Student Researcher Spotlight: Chenfei Hu


Jenna Kurtzweil, Beckman Institute

Illinois ECE alumni Chenfei Hu is overcoming adversity to make a change. A medical emergency inspired this student researcher to transform the healthcare industry by improving diagnosing instruments.

Chenfei Hu graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in August 2021 with a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering. In collaboration with Gabriel Popescu, Hu conducted research in Beckman’s Quantitative Imaging Lab to develop advanced microscopes for visualizing detailed biological systems.

Hometown: Dalian, China

When did you first take an interest in your field?

It started in my freshman year in college. One night, I had terrible abdominal pain. Turns out, it was caused by a big
kidney stone. But I could not get treated at the nearest hospital, because their imaging instrument was not good enough
to see the stone, and I had to be transferred to a place far away. It was a painful evening, but it inspired me to become a
researcher capable of building advanced imaging and diagnosing instruments to reduce patients’ pain.

What kind of research are you working on?

For our daily-use microscope, we can only see fine details of a specimen in a very small area. In other words, there is a tradeoff between image resolution and the field of view. For my thesis research, I am using computational tools to overcome this tradeoff.

Beckman’s mission is to build a better world. How does your research make our world better?

The imaging instruments (for example, microscopes) built in my lab provide significantly more detail than traditional equipment. Also, we integrate hardware design with a computational approach (software), which significantly improves efficiency, accuracy, and throughput.

How has your affiliation with the Beckman Institute helped you? 

I enjoyed the interdisciplinary atmosphere in Beckman. Many of my collaborators are members affiliated with Beckman, and their expertise is essential for my research outcomes. In addition, the various types of communication (seminars, open houses, research meetings, conferences, etc.) build my knowledge in areas related to my field, which forms positive feedback to design better systems.

Describe a transformative moment or experience you have had at Beckman.

I used to work as the leader of a student academic club called iOptics. Once in a while, we invited professors on campus and across the nation to come to Beckman and present their research. Through these one-hour-long events, I was amazed by the speakers’ stories: their educational and career histories; the obstacles that they faced in establishing new laboratories; and most importantly, how they discovered problems to uncover solutions. They presented topics with many different perspectives, which played important roles in developing my research and career.

Tell us about your post-university plans!

I just graduated from UIUC, and I will start working for Applied Materials soon. [Applied Materials is a leading U.S. company that supplies equipment, services, and software for manufacturing semiconductor chips. It is headquartered in Santa Clara, Calif.] 

What do you like to do outside of the classroom or lab?

Cooking BBQ, watching movies, hiking, and taking cool pictures.

Speed Round

Favorite local restaurant: Golden Harbor

Three songs on your summer playlist: This Is Me, The Greatest Showman; One Day More, Les Misérables; You Will Be Found, Dear Evan Hansen

COVID-conscious summer plans: For this summer, I just drove from Illinois to California. That’s a fun but tiring trip. And I will start working soon.


Read the original article on the Beckman Institute website.