15 July 2014

Inside BIGSS 2014, Part 2: Where knowledge and fun shook hands

Editor’s note: Guest blogger Khushi Vyas, Outreach Coordinator for the SPIE Student Chapter at Imperial College London, was among students at the biophotonics and imaging graduate summer school 15-20 June at the National Biophotonics Imaging Platform Ireland (NBIPI), National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway. In the second of two posts, Khushi describes the experience of attending the school from a personal perspective.

Wisely -- and happily -- BIGSS organizers ensure that the week is not all work and
no play; above attendees get to know each other better over refreshments after hours.
Galway -- the cultural city of Ireland with Bohemian accents -- played host to the fifth annual Biophotonics and Imaging Summer School (BIGSS), organized by the NUI Galway Applied Optics group and chaired by Professor Martin Leahy, who also leads the NBIPI. A mixed crowd, from first-timers to all-timers, comprised this year’s approximately 50 students who not only attended the technical program but made the school an experience of a lifetime.

Practical workshops, poster sessions, and discussion groups on hot topics in the field of photonics and imaging encouraged us students to engage with and explore our potential.

The welcome reception broke the ice among the participants and got everyone talking, divulging enthusiasms and work interests. Young scientists as well as early-career professionals working in multidisciplinary biophotonics areas came to a common platform from which to understand each others’ research work and future interests.

Throughout the rest of the week, eminent guest speakers from all over the world lectured on trending topics such as fluorescence life-time imaging, photoacoustic imaging, optogenetics, optical coherence tomography, and superresolution microscopy. Each speaker not only covered the fundamentals and applications of the topic, but also talked about their contributions in the area and dedicated a good amount of time to discussions which proved quite useful.

Lectures were complemented by practical workshop sessions in which Professor Leahy and his research group did an excellent job in demonstrating the working and applications of these modalities for in vitro and in vivo imaging.

Practical formats such as the poster session which were integrated into the program helped us realize our potential and encouraged discussions and inspirations based on other’s work. Interactive sessions with guest speakers prompted new ideas and future directions for research work. Lectures and sessions highlighted the importance of developing simple, affordable and accessible imaging techniques that could be translated seamlessly into clinical workflow.

However well-integrated a program is, all work and no play ain’t a very good idea.

Galway from the water: participants enjoy a
cruise on the River Corrib.
Activities including a river cruise, barbeque night, and a gala dinner at Dunguaire Castle made us acquainted beyond our professional lives and aspirations. Networking and bonding got more fuel in relaxed environments, and the city’s charm fostered the budding friendships among attendees.

By the end of the program, our knowledge quotient in the field of biophotonics was raised a notch, thanks to experts in the field. Present and future trends in biophotonics surfaced along with our insight into the field.

In early stages of research life, such experiences contribute invaluably towards a future and motivate one to work towards finding solutions for unmet clinical needs. Along with a renewed energy and streamlined direction for further research, we take home memories, new friendships, and hopes of meeting soon, which are at the heart of such experiences.

Inside BIGSS 2014, Part 1: Hot topics, trends, and the future of biophotonics

Editor’s note: Guest blogger Khushi Vyas, Outreach Coordinator for the SPIE Student Chapter at Imperial College London, was among students at the biophotonics and imaging graduate summer school 15-20 June at the National Biophotonics Imaging Platform Ireland (NBIPI), National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway. The first of two posts filed by Khushi describes the topics and trends discussed during the school.

BIGSS participants enjoyed an energizing week in Galway.
The recent fifth annual Biophotonics and Imaging Graduate Summer School (BIGSS) offered a great platform for multidisciplinary learning in biophotonics and fostered communication across several disciplines. Students went home with new ideas, streamlined directions for research, new contacts, and the motivation to contribute towards finding solutions for unmet clinical needs.

Participants included approximately 50 graduate students and early-career professionals and seven distinguished guest speakers working in diverse fields of engineering and imaging physics.

BIGSS chair
Martin Leahy
School organizers invite a different panel each year to share their knowledge, perspectives, and vision on the hot topics and future trends in biophotonics, noted Professor Martin Leahy, the chairperson for BIGSS 2014 and Scientific Director of NBIPI.

Tracks included:
  • Fluorescence microscopy
  • Superresolution microscopy
  • Tissue optics and light-tissue interactions
  • Optogenetics
  • Optical coherence tomography
  • Ultrasound-guided photoacoustic imaging
  • In vivo three-photon microscopy.
Each of the guest speakers covered seminal developments in manifold disciplines of biophotonics and presented a plethora of applications for 3D clinical imaging in vivo.

The trending topics of fluorescence lifetime imaging and multidimensional fluorescence imaging and their many applications towards in vivo and in vitro molecular imaging were discussed by Professor Paul French (Imperial College London).

Professor Rainer Heintzmann (Friedrich-Schiller-Universit├Ąt Jena) updated the audience with technological milestones achieved to advance from conventional microscopic imaging towards super resolution microscopy and highlighted the challenges that still persist in the field.

Professor Steve Jacques (Oregon Health and Sciences University) talked about the compelling research opportunities to assess and monitor nanoarchitecture of cells by developing novel microscope systems and use the information for therapy and diagnosis.

The new and very fast-growing field of optogenetics was discussed by Professor Samar Mohanty (University of Texas, Arlington) who threw light on his contributions towards optogenetic interventions of neural disorders.

Discussions by Professor Johannes de Boer (Vrie Universiteit Amsterdam) and Professor Stanislav Emelianov (University of Texas, Austin) on recent developments in optical coherence tomography and ultrasound-guided photoacoustic imaging respectively as a clinical imaging tool were also very well received by the attendees.

Professor Chris Xu (Cornell University) concluded the BIGSS guest lecture series by his talk on in vivo three-photon and four-photon microscopy and how this technology could pave the way for breakthroughs in neuroscience and clinical imaging.

When the exciting week drew to an end, participants were polled on potential themes for next year’s BIGSS program, and nanophotonics, photonic therapeutics, and optogenetics shone as popular choices amongst the attendees. Professor Leahy commented on the growing interest in developing ultrasound-guided photoacoustic imaging reconstruction tomography as a clinical tool, saying that he envisions it to be a much-talked-about topic in the near future.

07 July 2014

Your picture on the cover: SPIE’s International Year of Light Photo Contest

Show us your photonics -- that’s what the SPIE Professional magazine staff are asking of photographers around the world.

Light, water, camera, action: Indirect light in a darkened
aquarium highlights anatomical detail in a tank of
swimming jellyfish. (Nikon D40, Nikon AF-S DX
Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G lens, ISO 1600)
Winning photos showing the use of light and light-based technologies in daily life will win cash prizes and cover placement in an issue of SPIE Professional, published by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.

The SPIE International Year of Light 2015 Photo Contest is part of the society's observance of the United Nations-declared International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies in 2015 (IYL2015).

IYL2015 is a celebration of the crosscutting discipline of science that has revolutionized medicine, astronomy, and clean energy and opened up international communication via the Internet, and that continues to be central to linking cultural, economic, and political aspects of the global society.

Entries in the SPIE Professional contest must be received by 30 September 2014. Prizes will be awarded in 2015.

Too obvious? Maybe, but this smartphone
is packed with light-based technologies,
not to mention the lasers and other photonics
used to build it. (Nikon D40, Nikon AF-S
DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G lens)
Judges knowledgeable in light-based technologies and photography will award a top prize of US $2,500, a second prize of $1,000, and a third prize of $500.

In addition, members of the optics and photonics community and the general public will vote on winner for a "People's Choice" prize of $500.

Photographers of all ages are eligible to submit a maximum of two photos that show light or a light-based technology used in everyday life. Photos are not required to be scientific but they should hold some scientific interest or communicate the International Year of Light theme.

In addition to scientific interest, judges will also evaluate photos on creativity, artistry, and overall appeal. Minimal digital enhancement will be permitted. Because the top photos will be published on the covers of the print editions of SPIE Professional in 2015 and displayed in large format at SPIE Optics + Photonics in 2015, only print-quality digital files will be considered. Files smaller than 5 MB will not be accepted.

Complete information on the contest and rules is at www.spie.org/IYL.

How do you see light or light-based technologies being used in your daily life? Send in your photos.

Looking for inspiration? Take a tour of the gallery of gorgeous images from space presented by astronomer and science educator Ryan Hannahoe.

05 June 2014

Time to speak out for photonics

It’s time for the photonics community to “stand up and be counted,” said optics.org Editor-in-Chief Mike Hatcher in today’s newsletter. We agree! Here’s how Mike put it:

“The behind-the-scenes work being done by representatives of the U.S. National Photonics Initiative (NPI) appears to be paying off. This week, an official request for information (RFI) from the Department of Defense (DoD) included photonics as one of six technology areas under consideration for a new public-private national manufacturing institute.

“That RFI signals the invitation for the wider community - both industrial and academic - to get more directly involved in the process, by feeding back the kind of information that the DoD is looking for.

"Now is the time for photonics proponents to communicate as clearly as possible the huge benefits that this technology will bring to the DoD and beyond with proper co-ordination, and the first chance to get involved is a webinar scheduled for tomorrow, Friday 6 June [2-3 p.m. EDT].

“The DoD's selection will no doubt be a highly competitive process -- it's time for photonics to stand up and be counted.”

Start by registering for the webinar, and then make your voice heard! The DoD is accepting comment on the RFI though 14 July.

29 May 2014

Photonics for sensing: short list of 18

For as much as sensing technology is already enhancing our lives, the future promises even more.

Take that smartphone, for example.

Currently, it contains several very useful sensors. But, noted Tim Day, CEO/CTO of Daylight Solutions during a session on “The Future of Sensing” at the recent SPIE DSS event in Baltimore, by 2020, it’s easy to envision hundreds of sensors on such a device.

Demands for personal fitness monitoring and personalized medicine are big drivers, Day said.

Today’s sensors can tell us a lot. For example: How quickly did I go from jog to sprint today compared to yesterday? How close am I to my destination? What is that constellation?

But we want to know much more: blood sugar levels, temperature, blood pressure, air quality, and on and on. And we will be able to, via wearables (see Scientific American on that topic) and other technology using photonics.

Thermal images captured with Opgal's smartphone
attachment can be presented in a variety of color
schemes as above, or in black-and-white.
Looking at what’s in or close to being available to the consumer now, at the SPIE DSS Expo FLIR and Opgal were showing thermal-imaging attachments for the smartphone that can be used, for example, to find water leaks, assess tree damage, locate inflammations under a pet’s fur, or detect people or animals moving around outside a building.

In another aisle in the Expo, the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University demonstrated the first major upgrade in prosthetic limbs since World War II -- with the help of a prototype robot called Robo Sally. The robot was fitted with modular prosthetic limbs with tele-operated feedback controls, using technology initiated with significant investment from DARPA. (See a video demonstration of Robo Sally.)

video
The prosthetic system includes electrodes in nearby muscles that pick up signals from the brain, enabling the amputee patient to activate the hand. While functionality varies from person to person depending on when and where on the body the injury occurred, the prosthetic provides a high level of dexterity. The grip is sensitive enough to pick an egg without breaking the shell, yet firm enough to grasp heavy objects.

On Robo Sally, the arms can be operated remotely as well from up to a half mile away, fulfilling tasks such as bomb disposal or checking chemical spills.

Looking further into the future, food safety is another area where sensors – specifically, using hyperspectral sensing -- have a lot to offer.

Moon Kim of the U.S. Agricultural Research Service, in a conference presentation in the Sensing Technologies and Applications (STA) symposium, and David Bannon, Headwall Photonics, in the “The Future of Sensing” session told how. (Scan the news from SPIE DSS 2014 for synopses of Moon's and other papers from STA and its sister symposium, Defense + Security.)

Agricultural food products can be contaminated with pathogens at any point in the growing, harvesting, packaging, and preparation processes.

In a paper co-authored with Colm Everard of University College Dublin, Moon described using hyperspectral imaging techniques to monitor food and detect pathogens in greens and other vegetables.

Bannon’s list of applications included mandated poultry inspections, looking for histamines in fish, and removal of foreign objects such as glass or metal during processing.

A laser-based sensing system for detecting gas leaks has been monitoring the millions of miles of natural gas pipelines in the United States for the last two decades. In another conference paper, Michael Frish of Physical Sciences described a similar system his company has developed for application in the CO2 pipelines that are used in extracting oil and natural gas.

The detectors may be permanent or mobile, even deployed on UAVs (unmanned autonomous vehicles), or they may be open-path sensors that stand guard at intervals along a pipeline. When a leak is detected, these wireless, solar-powered sensors will generate an alert within one minute.

Frish said that the version now being tested at various locations is expected to become an important tool as the movement of carbon dioxide expands with carbon sequestration and increasing use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in oil and natural gas extraction

This quick list includes 18 applications of photonics-enabled sensing. Read more about optical sensors in the April issue of SPIE Professional.

What applications for a better world do you see at work or on the horizon?

20 May 2014

Climate change: what scientists say

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has issued a bold call for action related to climate change. With the publication of a report on the subject entitled “What We Know,” the organization delivers an assessment of current climate science and impacts that emphasizes the need to understand and recognize possible high-risk scenarios.

But the organization ups the ante. CEO Alan Leshner, in a letter to members 14 May, says that it’s not enough to simply issue another report. Leshner’s letter says it’s time to “change the conversation from whether the earth is warming to just how we are going to work together to alter the course our planet is on.” He calls on scientists to work together to alert the United States and the world to “severe outcomes that could occur through inaction or continued resistance to change.”

The report cites polls in which a large minority of Americans still think there is significant disagreement among scientists about whether global warming is real. While 97% of scientists* agree about it, only 42% of Americans are aware of the consensus. The AAAS “What We Know” initiative aims to change the conversation based on three R’s: Reality, Risk, and Response.

* A humorous approach: The comedy show Last Week Tonight
recently demonstrated what 97% versus 3% looks like,
in its segment “Climate Change Debate” [4:26]
By coincidence, today (20 May) is World Metrology Day. But not surprisingly, this year’s theme is “Measurements and the global energy challenge.” Almost every aspect of the fight to document and respond to climate change depends on measurement.

To dig deeper into some of that, check out a new special section in the Journal of Applied Remote Sensing (JARS)The section details work of scientists and engineers developing new technologies and methods to observe biophysical changes from space, helping to monitor and address phenomena from shrinking glaciers to water runoff from urban development. The papers in the special section are among outcomes of “Earth observation for sensitive variables of global change: mechanisms and methodologies,” a years-long project of the National Basic Research Program of China.

“Global change now poses a severe threat to the survival and development of humankind,” said guest editor Huadong Guo, director of the Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth in the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “Comprehensive observation by multiple remote sensing systems could provide an effective means for accurately observing global change.”

The United Nations has had a lot to say about climate change lately as well. As part of a global effort to mobilize action and ambition on climate change, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is inviting heads of state and government along with business, finance, civil society and local leaders to a climate summit in September in New York City.

And the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which demonstrated last month that global emissions of greenhouse gases have risen to unprecedented levels despite a growing number of policies to reduce climate change, is seeking comment from experts for its Synthesis Report to be finalized in October.

These are bold calls to action, as they are meant to be -- and 97% of scientists can tell you why.

21 April 2014

Life in the fast lane for photonics!

Backers of an initiative to raise awareness of the field of photonics and the many contributions photonics technologies and applications make to a stronger economy as well as quality of life have new reason to celebrate.

Post the badge on your website
to show your support!
Last week, the Committee on Science of the the National Science and Technology Council nudged photonics toward the fast track, with the release on Thursday of a report by its Fast-Track Action Committee on Optics and Photonics (FTAC-OP).

In a report titled "Building a Brighter Future with Optics and Photonics,” the FTAC-OP presented a prioritized list of seven recommendations for research opportunities and research-related capabilities. The list aligns with and supports recommendations of the 2013 National Research Council Report Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies for our Nation, addressing important needs from new methods for stopping disease, to more jobs that strengthen the economy, to expanded national manufacturing through homegrown R&D, to more effective security and defense systems.

The report notes that support for its recommendations will accelerate basic research progress and applications in optics and photonics.

We think so, too, and join in the photonics community's applause for the FTAC-OP for identifying some powerful strategies to advance the ability of photonics to change lives for the better and contribute to economic competitiveness for the nation.

The FTAC-OP’s prioritized list of recommendations includes:

Research Opportunities
  • (A1) Biophotonics to Advance Understanding of Systems Biology and Disease Progression. Support fundamental research in innovative biophotonics to enable advances in quantitative imaging; systems biology, medicine, and neuroscience; in vivo validation of biomarkers that advance medical diagnostics, prevention, and treatment; and more efficient agricultural production.
  • (A2) From Faint to Single Photonics. Develop optics and photonics technologies that operate at the faintest light levels.
  • (A3) Imaging Through Complex Media. Advance the science of light propagation and imaging through scattering, dispersive, and turbulent media.
  • (A4) Ultra-Low-Power Nano-Optoelectronics. Explore the limits of low energy, attojoule-level photonic devices for application to information processing and communications.

Capability Opportunities
  • (B1) Accessible Fabrication Facilities for Researchers. Determine the need of academic researchers and small business innovators for access to affordable domestic fabrication capabilities to advance the research, development, manufacture, and assembly of complex integrated photonic-electronic devices.
  • (B2) Exotic Photonics. Promote research and development to make compact, user-friendly light sources, detectors, and associated optics at exotic wavelengths accessible to academia, national laboratories, and industry.
  • (B3) Domestic Sources for Critical Photonic Materials. Develop and make available optical and photonic materials critical to our Nation’s research programs, such as infrared materials, nonlinear materials, low-dimensional materials, and engineered materials.

The National Photonics Initiative is an industry-driven campaign to guide photonics research and funding, and resulted from last year’s Essential Technologies report from the NRC. SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, is among the Founding Sponsors in a coalition of scientific societies helping to lead the initiative. The goals of the NPI are to:
  • raise awareness of photonics and the impact of photonics on our everyday lives
  • increase cooperation and coordination among US industry, government and academia to advance photonics-driven fields
  • drive U.S. funding and investment in areas of photonics critical to maintaining U.S. economic competitiveness and national security.

Read the FTAC-OP report -- and keep doing your part to raise the visibility of the powerful enabling technology of photonics! Find out more at www.LightOurFuture.org.