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Photonex Roadshow

A wet, typical spring day in central London saw over 200 delegates attend Imperial College for a comprehensive look at the world of photonics. The Photonics Technology Roadshow, which took place 11 April, is made up with three advanced sciences tracts: applied photonics techniques scientific presentations; educational tutorials; and a tabletop trade exhibition where around 30 companies showcased their photonic products from components to finished analytical and applied solutions.

This format drew a broad mix of attendees, both academic and from industry, and makes one comment on the value of attending such a mixed meeting of choices. First and foremost, face-to-face discussions are the heart and soul of the meeting. This might be life scientists and surgeons talking about how the latest advances in microscopy and spectroscopy aid detection and treatment with the aim of curing of diseases. At the other end of the spectrum, there are the system builders working in the field of homeland security. I met a remarkably broad cross-section of individuals from across many disciplines; from students presenting posters to professors reporting their work in scientific presentations; from engineers to consultants vying for new ideas, exploring the newly available solutions as presented by the diverse exhibiting companies from the UK and Europe. Photonex is definitely the sort of event where there is something for everyone.

Conference programme

The conference programme was broad and the full abstracts may now be viewed online for those wishing more details: To whet the appetite, I have picked out a selection of the talks I attended.

The morning session was delivered by senior academics from the UK and France. The subject of the talks focused on advances in optical nanoscopy. This included looking at new ways to observe materials beyond the diffraction limit for optical microscopy - the study of features at dimensions below 250 nm in x, y and z. The major breakthroughs in this field were recognised when the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was award to three leading researchers, Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell and William Moerner which has led to the rapid growth in new microscopy techniques illustrated by many new acronyms coming into use as new techniques are developed.

Moving through theory to practical solutions was the shared goal of the three speakers. Opening the meeting, Professor Philipp Kukura from the University of Oxford challenged the intuitive powers of the audience. New super-resolution techniques have been dominated by the use of fluorescence. Kukura’s alternative approach applies light scattering in a new method he has named interferometric scatting microscopy (iSCAT). Using the example of how a myosin might ‘walk’ along an actin filament, he clearly showed the future possibilities for the study of nanoscale events such as phase separation, dynamics at interfaces, bilayers and biological filaments.

Dr Eric Rees from the University of Cambridge highlighted the power of number crunching to help researchers better interpret their data on the nanoscale. By a technique he terms ellipsoid localisation microscopy (ELM), Dr Rees develops mathematical techniques for making accurate, quantitative measurements from optical image data. He showed how he has developed ELM to propose explanations of spore coat structure of Bascillus subtilis. He has determined the order and geometry of concentric protein layers by fitting models to image data captured on a basic fluorescence widefield microscope. Starting with a spherical model, his results have gone on to show that these coatings have an ‘almond-like’ shape. More work on other models of geometry is now under way.

Keynote on multiphoton imaging

The keynote presentation was delivered by Dr Emmanuel Beaurepaire of the Laboratory for Optics and Biosciences at L’Ecole Polytechnique in France. He gave a comprehensive review of multiphoton imaging of developing tissues using multicolour and light-sheet approaches. This work has been published in Nature Methods (2014 and 2015) and was illustrated in his presentation with the use of exceptional movies showing the division of cells in zebra fish to the ability to make whole-brain functional imaging using two-photon light sheet microscopy (2P-SPIM). The important benefit here is being able to image thick and living samples with 3D micron-scale resolution. By using this multiphoton approach, as it enables imaging speeds 50-100 times faster than the original point-scanning approach, it delivers the added benefit of strongly reducing unwanted photobleaching effects. Looking ahead, Beaurepaire is working in the implementation of larger, faster, more sensitive data management techniques to enhance the understanding of his data.

Taking research methods to the next level, applying technology for the care of patients was well illustrated by Professor Nick Stone from the University of Exeter. For much of his career, Stone worked in the NHS heading up the Biophotonics Research Unit based in Gloucester before moving to Exeter to lead the Biomedical Spectroscopy group exploring the use of novel vibrational spectroscopy and imaging for point of care testing and rapid in vivo diagnostics. His talk focused on the application of Raman spectroscopy to probe disease specific molecular changes in tissues. Having outlined concerns about traditional pathology and its reliance on pattern recognition of slides, Stone showed examples of oesophageal samples where he used Raman scattering to predict disease progression. He is now working on the development of new endoscopy probes for Raman imaging and a new technique called SPORS – spatially offset Raman spectroscopy. His closing comments well reflected the talks as a whole, excusing the pun – “the future is bright” for photonics applications.

Learning from specialists

With the tutorials, posters and the exhibition offering so much to learn about, it was difficult to fit in everything I wanted to see. At least I could still read about the tutorials on the Photonex web site. The abstracts are still available to download: Having chaired these sessions at past workshops, I have seen the great value in learning from first principals how to select the optimum components, what to expect from instruments and photonic systems and how to use them. This year was no exception with talks from cameras to precision optics; from filters to motors to modulators. I particularly liked the descriptions of new applications for microscopy, lasers and spectroscopy. Most of the talks were given by specialists from the exhibitors so visitors were able to follow up with discussions on their personal project interests.

Poster session

A poster session in the afternoon, an element of the ‘Advances in Photonics Tools and Techniques meeting’, provided opportunity for some of the conference speakers’ students to present more detailed information on the experimentation behind their work. With more than a dozen poster to inspect, visitors could easily while away another hour. The work was most interesting and three presenters were rewarded for their efforts. The Institute of Physics Optical Group sponsored the “Best Student Poster” with the £100 prize going to James Manton/Imperial College London for his work on Ellipsoid localisation microscopy. This was chosen by the Technical Program Committee under the chairmanship of Dr Chris Dunsby from the hosts, Imperial College London. Enlighten Meetings sponsored a second “Popular Choice” prize voted upon by delegates. This prize was shared and went to Stephanie Reynolds/Imperial College London for her work on Two-Photon Calcium Imaging Data and Pardis Kaynezhad/University College London for her work on Optical Monitoring of Spinal Cord Tissue.

I was once again surprised by the energy of the meeting. Delegates, speakers and exhibitors spoke well about the organisation and variety of activities provided by the event. No one expressed these feelings better than industry stalwart, John Knight. Having seen the field of photonics grow over the past 50 years, Knight still sees the value of face-to-face contact and is why he is always one of the first to sign up his company, Knight Photonics, to participate in such events. Give it the more modern term of ‘networking’, the roadshow provides an environment that bridges the gap between scientific end users wishing an almost ‘black box’ solution to the system integrator who wants to put together a customised package integrating at the component level in a way that fine tunes the resulting solution.

It was good to hear positive comments about the event from delegates too. Speaker Dr Philipp Kukura said “I was impressed with both the breadth of the scientific talks as well as the broad and interesting range of exhibits. I came away with lots of new ideas how to improve our experiments, not much more one can ask for from a one day meeting."     

This year is the 25th anniversary of the Photonex series of events and the October event is scheduled for 12 to 13 October at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry.

Written by Jezz Leckenby, Talking Science Limited, Saffron Walden.

Labels: Photonex,Photonics Technology Roadshow,Imperial College,optics,imaging,applications

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