Award Year

Stephen Boppart's family moved several times as he was growing up, but that did not stop him from being a 4-H member for eight years in McHenry County, Cook County, and then in Finney County, Kansas. His favorite 4-H projects were woodworking and wood science, electricity, gardening, dog care, leadership, and public speaking. Stephen says that his 4-H experiences helped shape his life because it provided structure and organization for him to learn new things, focus on new projects, and develop new and important life skills. Through 4-H, he developed his public speaking and leadership skills, which he uses and reflects back on almost every day. 4-H inspired a passion for learning and doing throughout his life.

Stephen received his M.D. from Harvard Medical School and a Ph.D. in medical and electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He completed his internship and residency in internal medicine at the University of Illinois while serving as a professor of electrical engineering, bioengineering, and internal medicine at the university, a position he still holds today. While a student at Harvard and MIT, Stephen began to develop a biomedical imaging technology called Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT). Similar in concept to ultrasound, the technology uses light to identify structural, functional, and molecular features in tissues and cells that could be used as diagnostic markers for cancer. After completing his degrees, he advanced his research as a professor at the University of Illinois, where he was named one of Technology Review magazine's Top 100 Young Innovators in the World in 2002 for his medical imaging technology. Stephen continues to pursue OCT breakthroughs at Mills Breast Cancer Institute in Urbana, where his time is divided between administrative work and research. Both of Stephen's parents were active in his 4-H clubs, and he is grateful to his father for helping him get started in 4-H and for passing his love of the program on to him.