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Malini Olivo

Singapore Bioimaging Consortium, Singapore
For pioneering contribution in Clinical Photodiagnostics in the area of clinical spectroscopy and imaging in early cancer detection and phototherapeutics of cancer.
Malini Olivo

No matter who you are or where you are from, “You can do it,” says Malini Olivo who grew up in Malaysia and now lives in Singapore. From a young age, she was interested in science, medicine, and how the body works. Her mother was a science teacher and Malini would read her science books, becoming fascinated with light, color, and prisms. Fortunately, she attended an all-girls school in Kuala Lumpur where she was encouraged to pursue her interests in science.

Today, Malini works as the Head of Bio-optical Imaging at the Singapore Bioimaging Consortium at the Agency for Science Technology and Research (part of the Singaporean government). She also works as an adjunct professor at the National University of Singapore. She is focused on biophotonics and medical devices for bioimaging and biosensing, an area of research that is quickly expanding. She says it is important to continue to do research and expand our knowledge in multidisciplinary fields and in new fields in photonics such as nanomedicine and nanophotonics. Her favorite part of the research process is discovering something new that can be translated to patient care and cures. The coolest discovery she has made so far involves imaging tools for early detection of diseases such as cancer, skin disease, and infections. Another example of optics and photonics contributing to groundbreaking research in medicine.

She encourages those interested in the field to pursue their passions and to consider new or multidisciplinary fields. Throughout her career, she faced obstacles and was made to feel that girls who study physics cannot go far in their scientific careers and also have a family. About ten years into her career, her son was born and she thought she would need to leave research for teaching. Her mentor-supervisor at the time encouraged her to stay on the research track, a decision that helped her reach her current level of success. Malini believes it is important to have a mentor who can encourage you to pursue your dreams. After having important mentors in her own career, Malini is excited about mentoring young people, both men and women, in scientific research and pursuits of discovery and excellence.

Malini notes that her participation and membership in OSA has been of great importance for her career. She is proud to have the OSA Fellow distinction, and met many of her mentors through OSA including Sune Svanberg (Lund Universitet, Sweden), Brian Wilson (University Health Network, Canada), Chris Dainty (FotoNation, Ireland), Colin Sheppard (Australia), and Britton Chance (USA). She uses email, Twitter, and Facebook to stay in touch with international colleagues and remaining up-to-date on the latest trends and research.

Thomas Edison is her favorite scientist and his words still hold true today - “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration” and “many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Malini’s advice is to “be a pioneer, be courageous and tread new ground. Be brave.”

Profile written by Jeanette Gass

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