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Ke Li

Ke Li

Assistant Professor

Tell us a bit about your family.

I live with my wife Qian and our daughter April, who will be entering kindergarten this year. Qian and I first met when we were 13, got married after college, entered parenthood after graduate school—quite standard workflow except the starting age.

What was the last book you finished or what book are you currently reading?

I just finished reading Selected Works of Liu Zhen Yun borrowed from the Memorial Library of UW. The 4th floor of this library has a surprisingly rich collection of East Asian novels, which is the genre of literature I read the most.

What accomplishment are you most proud of in your life?

Becoming a faculty member of our department.

What are some of your hobbies?

Woodworking and carpentry. I love designing and crafting furniture and toys for my daughter.

What is a little-known fact about you?

I’m a decent swimmer who can finish 100m breaststroke within 70 s. This speed should make me competitive enough in the 7th grade level (or not).

If you could pick one other career, what would it be?

Physics teacher. This is perhaps the only other job I would enjoy as much as what I’m doing now.

View Past Spotlights

What is your position in the department? What are some of the projects/research you currently are working on?

I’m an assistant professor of our department, and hold an affiliate appointment in the Department of Radiology. One of my major research projects is x-ray phase contrast breast imaging. I have been exploring how to utilize the wave nature of x rays to provide additional novel contrast mechanisms to conventional digital mammography and digital breast tomosynthesis, which could benefit the diagnosis of breast cancer. We have built two of these prototype systems and will be performing preliminary human subject evaluations of these systems in the coming year. Besides breast imaging, I’m also interested in CT-based stroke imaging. I have been developing a photon counting CT system and exploring its potential application in the diagnosis of ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes. I have also been actively investigating how to improve the accuracy and reliability of CT perfusion imaging for the diagnosis and management of acute ischemic strokes.

What attracted you to UW-Madison? How did you get started with our department?

Actually, I got started with our department as a PhD student in 2009: I was attracted to UW-Madison by the top-notch graduate program offered by the Medical Physics Department, as well as the exciting research and training opportunities provided by my PhD advisor and his CT research group. During my open house visit in the spring of 2009, they showed me all kinds of interesting physics problems they had been solving in a medical physics lab, and I just couldn’t resist any opportunity in becoming a team member of them.

How has your research progressed, from your graduate thesis to your post-doc work to your many projects here as a Professor?

A PhD dissertation usually ends with an outlook for the future work of the thesis project. My dissertation, which explores the potential medical utility of x-ray phase contrast imaging, is no exception. I wrote in the last chapter of my thesis that a clinically-compatible prototype system needs to be developed to help us understand the true clinical utility of x-ray phase contrast imaging. As a faculty member of the same department where my thesis project was carried through, I have the luxury of delivering what I promised to do. During the process, I’m constantly gaining new knowledge and experience, which have been utilized to develop new research projects such as photon counting CT imaging of the brain.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Teaching. It motivates (and forces) me to expand the breadth of knowledge and dive into the fundamentals of a discipline. Personally, I have been benefited tremendously from so many remarkable teachers in our department, and I hope to carry on this hallmark of our department.

Ke enjoyed his teaching experience at the 2017 UW-China summer education program in Tianjin.

Is there any advice you have received in school or during your career that you would like to share?

“Don’t be afraid of reinventing the wheel.” My PhD advisor often told me. In revisiting each seemingly old theory, if we close the book and re-derive it step-by-step and independently, we actually have opportunities to introduce some new insights (if not, at least it shows you are as bright as the pioneer). Once the wheel is reinvented, don’t just stop there. Based on the new insights or approach learned during the process, together with a grain of spice called innovation, we proceed and make the wheel rolls smoother, with reduced cost, or find its new applications.

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