Photonex Roadshow in focus

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A wet, typical spring day in central London saw over 200 delegates visit Imperial College for a comprehensive look at the world of photonics.
The roadshow is made up of three tracts: advanced sciences – applied photonics scientific presentations; educational tutorials; and a tabletop trade exhibition where around 30 companies showcased their photonic products whether at the component level or the finished analytical or process solution.
 
This mix highlights the broad cross-section of attendees and asks questions about the value of attending such a mixed meeting of choices. First, and foremost, face-to-face discussions are the heart and soul of the event. This might be life scientists and surgeons talking about how the latest advances in microscopy and spectroscopy can aid detection and ultimately the cure 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 range of individuals from many different disciplines; from students presenting posters to professors reporting their work in scientific presentations. From engineers to consultants vying for new ideas, exploring the options now available as presented by exhibitors from around Europe. Photonex is definitely the sort of event which has something to offer everyone.
The morning session was delivered by senior academics from the UK and France. The talks first focused on the advances in optical nanoscopy. This meant looking at new ways to observe materials beyond the diffraction limit for optical microscopy so 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. This led to the rapid growth in the creation of new microscopies illustrated by new acronyms coming to market with a mix of commercial and homebuilt solutions. 
 
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. The 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 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 shown that these coatings have an “almond-like” shape. More work on other models of geometry is now under way.
 
Attendees at Photonex Roadshow London 2016. The conference programme was broad and the full abstracts may now be viewed online for those wishing more details: www.photonex.org/londonadvances
 
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 benefits here are 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 and this 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’s 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.
 
With the tutorials, posters and the exhibition offering so much, it was difficult to fit everything in that I wanted to see. At least I could read about the tutorials on the Photonex web site. The abstracts are still available to download: http://www.photonex.org/downloads/Photonics-Tutorials-London-PROGRAMME-2...
Having chaired these sessions at past workshops, I have seen the value of advice from first principles on to how to select the optimum components when engineers are building prototypes or basic rigs for fundamental research. 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. 
 
A poster session provided opportunity for some of the speakers’ students to present more detailed information on the experimentation behind their work. With more than a dozen posters to inspect, visitors could easily while away another hour. The work was most interesting and two presenters were rewarded for their efforts. The Institute of Physics Optics Group sponsored the Best Student Poster and a £100 prize went to James Manton from Imperial College for his work using ellipsoid localisation microscopy. This was chosen by the Technical Program Committee under the chair of Dr Chris Dunsby from the hosts, Imperial College. 
 
 
Winners James Manton, far left, took first prize whilst Pardis Kanyezhad, left, and Stephanie Reynolds were also recognized for their Posters as Dr Chris Dunsby presented all with their awards
 
Enlighten Meetings sponsored a second prize voted upon by delegates for the “most popular” poster. This was shared by two students: Stephanie Reynolds of Imperial College London for her work on Two-Photon Calcium Imaging Data and Pardis Kaynezhad of 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’s always one of the first to sign up his company – Knight Photonics – to participate. The more modern term of networking  does not take anything away from creating an environment which helps bridge 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.
 
Oxford’s Philipp Kukura, main image, fields some questions
 
It was good to hear positive comments 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 on how to improve our experiments, not much more one can ask from a one-day meeting.”     
This year is the 25th anniversary of the Photonex series of events so mark this annual two-day gathering on October 12th and 13th in your diary. The Ricoh Arena in Coventry provides one of the most accessible venues in the country.  See you there?
 
Jezz Leckenby
Talking Science Limited
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