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#FacesofPhotonics: Marie Curie Early Stage Researcher, Angeliki Zafeiropoulou

Zafeiropoulou in the lab at the 
Optoelectronics Research Center
Angeliki Zafeiropoulou, known to friends as Angie, was born and raised in Athens, Greece. She is a PhD student at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, and is one of 15 students who won a FINESSE Early Stage Research (ESR) fellowship.

As part of her fellowship, she works at Fibercore Limited in Southampton and gets many opportunities to interact with other institutions, conducting research as a visiting PhD student. She recently finished a three-month secondment at Vrije Universiteit Brussel in the Photonics Innovation Center, where she enjoyed the collaborative aspect of her work: it's clear that Zafeiropoulou will feel complete, as she notes below, "to know that I have accomplished my personal goal of doing research that has an impact on the society."

Enjoy SPIE's Faces of Photonics interview with Angie!

1. Explain your current research and what you do at your job. How does your work impact society?

I am working in the field of distributed optical fibre sensing, trying to perform shape sensing, which means that my goal is to reconstruct the shape of structures using multicore optical fibres and their inherent scattering properties. The potential applications of shape sensing include minimally invasive surgery, but I am focused on the civil-engineering field, as the spatial resolution of my method (~2m) is ideal for large-scale structures, such as tunnels and bridges.

Here is how it works: we will embed an optical fibre sensor inside a structure, like a bridge, to achieve distributed monitoring of the strain exerted on the structure, typically due to bending caused by loads such as cars. By measuring the strain, we can reconstruct the shape of the deformed bridge. This is why we call it shape sensing! By knowing the shape of the deformed structure in real time and the strain exerted, we can actually get information about the health of the structure and can intervene early to avoid catastrophic effects, such as collapses. This will contribute to a safer society.

My goal is to make a portable box with the setup I have built. This would allow me to take it into the field and perform shape-sensing tests on bridges, tunnels, or railways.

This project is just a small piece of a larger European network called FINESSE, which is a collaborative research and training group comprised of 26 European universities, research centres, and industrial partners, with the aim of establishing widespread implementation of distributed optical fibre sensor systems for a safer society.

FIBRE FRIENDS: Group photo at The Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology in Jena 
during a FINESSE training event on speciality optical fibres.

2. What is it like to be part of an organization like FINESSE? 

Being a member of such a big network has a lot of benefits. I am a Marie Curie Early Stage Researcher (ESR) at Fibercore Ltd which is a specialty optical fibre manufacturer and part of the FINESSE consortium. In parallel, I am a full-time PhD student in the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) at the University of Southampton, one of the world’s leading institutes for photonic research. The experience of working in both an industrial and an academic environment is invaluable. You get to develop different perspectives for the same task, which adds another dimension to your research skills!

Being an ESR means that I also benefit from training events organised by various FINESSE partners, where the 14 other ESRs and I have the opportunity to attend high-quality lectures, improve our presentation skills, and network. This reinforces the importance of collaboration within our field.

To enhance such collaboration, FINESSE requires ESRs to perform secondments at the various partner institutions. During those secondments we have the opportunity to experience different working environments and benefit from the expertise of the host institutions. In addition, it’s a nice opportunity to live in a different country, experience the culture, and live as a local for a few months!

Our first training event was in June 2017 in Brussels. During this event, two ESR representatives including myself were elected to ensure that the thoughts and opinions of all ESRs are taken into consideration during supervisory board meetings where high-level decisions are made. Now, I participate in all the board meetings which gives me more insight to the organisational aspect of the network, and allows me to communicate to the supervisors any concerns on behalf of our ESR colleagues.

COLLABORATION WITHOUT BORDERS: Zafeiropoulou became friends with fellow photonics researchers Tatevik and Astghik Chalyan during her secondment in Brussels.

3. Tell us more about your recent secondment in Brussels. What were you working on?

NEW FREQUENCY: Zafeiropoulou made the 
most of her time at VUB.
My placement at VUB was to get training in the simulation tools required to theoretically predict the Brillouin frequency shift of a 7-core optical fibre. Brillouin scattering is an inherent scattering mechanism in optical fibres that can be used for making distributed optical fibre sensors with shape sensing capabilities. The Brillouin frequency shift is a quantity that can be used to extract the strain exerted to a core, when the fibre is under strain. This study is complementary to the experimental work I am performing at the ORC, where I measure the Brillouin frequency shift of  Fibercore’s 7-core fibre under strain.

My time in Brussels was invaluable. I got the chance to work in a different environment, interact with many new people, and make great friends! I also had the opportunity to practise my French, which proved to be a useful second foreign language to have. And I got to travel around Belgium during the weekends and see many of its beauties. Getting out of your comfort zone can seem pretty intimidating in the beginning, but for me it turned out to be a sweet experience I will never forget!

4. When you look five years into the future, what do you hope to have accomplished?

In five years, I would really like to see my research being widely implemented in the real world, such as in civil engineering projects. I will feel more complete as a person to know that I have accomplished my personal goal of doing research that has an impact on the society.

EXCEPTIONAL FINESSE: Zafeiropoulou takes measurements in Fibercore's cleanroom.

5. What is your advice to others in the STEM community?

Chase your dreams. If you ever feel like giving up because of the demanding nature of your job, remember that even the smallest research contribution can have an impact in our society!

SPIE’s #FacesofPhotonics social media campaign connects SPIE members in the global optics, photonics, and STEM communities. It serves to highlight similarities, celebrate differences, and foster a space where conversation and community can thrive.

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