Development of a platform for super-resolution imaging in non-conventional environments

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Engineering


Structured Illumination Microscopy (SIM) is a super-resolution optical microscopy technique that enables sub-diffraction imaging of live samples in multiple colours. This is achieved by illuminating the sample with changing patterns of excitation light and computationally extracting sub-diffraction information from images acquired under three or more different patterns. In addition to a doubling of resolution, additional processing of SIM data allows the rejection of out of focus light, producing optically sectioned images to increase both the contrast and resolution in deep tissues.
Since its inception, SIM has become a workhorse technique for biologists wishing to study dynamic structures within living systems. However, current implementations of SIM remain prohibitively expensive and complicated for all but the most well-funded imaging facilities.
Additionally, the complexity of existing systems means they can only be operated in heavily controlled environments, and require extensive and complicated hardware control which can be difficult or impossible to replace or repair. This precludes the application of SIM in situations where it is not possible to house bulky apparatus that may be sensitive to temperature and adverse environmental conditions. Examples of this include the cold rooms used to study Antarctic species and the high containment level biological research labs used to study pathogenic samples. The goal of this project is to fundamentally re-design and construct a SIM microscope from the ground up, to offer super resolution microscopy to researchers who previously have been unable to make use of it. This will enable biological research in vital areas, such as virology, where key processes are still poorly understood due to limitations in existing imaging technologies. This project will develop a simple pattern projection technique based on a commercial spatial light modulator, such as those found in low-cost projectors. This will be combined with low-power LED light sources and 3D printed parts which can be easily replaced and do not require access to specialist suppliers. Bundled together, this will be a simple and easily accessible SIM system that can be used outside of traditional optics labs.

Planned Impact

The impact of the CDT in Connected Electronic and Photonic Systems is expected to be wide ranging and include both scientific research and industry outcomes. In terms of academia, it is envisaged that there will be a growing range of research activity in this converged field in coming years, and so the research students should not only have opportunities to continue their work as research fellows, but also to increasingly find posts as academics and indeed in policy advice and consulting.

The main area of impact, however, is expected to be industrial manufacturing and service industries. Relevant industries will include those involved in all areas of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), together with printing, consumer electronics, construction, infrastructure, defence, energy, engineering, security, medicine and indeed systems companies providing information systems, for example for the financial, retail and medical sectors. Such industries will be at the heart of the digital economy, energy, healthcare, security and manufacturing fields. These industries have huge markets, for example the global consumer electronics market is expected to reach $2.97 trillion in 2020. The photonics sector itself represents a huge enterprise. The global photonics market was $510B in 2013 and is expected to grow to $766 billion in 2020. The UK has the fifth largest manufacturing base in electronics in the world, with annual turnover of £78 billion and employing 800,000 people (TechUK 2016). The UK photonics industry is also world leading with annual turnover of over £10.5 billion, employing 70,000 people and showing sustained growth of 6% to 8% per year over the last three decades (Hansard, 25 January 2017 Col. 122WH). As well as involving large companies, such as Airbus, Leonardo and ARM, there are over 10,000 UK SMEs in the electronics and photonics manufacturing sector, according to Innovate UK. Evidence of the entrepreneurial culture that exists and the potential for benefit to the UK economy from establishing the CDT includes the founding of companies such as Smart Holograms, PervasID, Light Blue Optics, Zinwave, Eight19 and Photon Design by staff and our former PhD students. Indeed, over 20 companies have been spun out in the last 10 years from the groups proposing this CDT.

The success of these industries has depended upon the availability of highly skilled researchers to drive innovation and competitive edge. 70% of survey respondents in the Hennik Annual Manufacturing Report 2017 reported difficulty in recruiting suitably skilled workers. Contributing to meeting this acute need will be the primary impact of the CEPS CDT.

Centre research activities will contribute very strongly to research impact in the ICT area (Internet of Things (IoT), data centre interconnects, next generation access technologies, 5G+ network backhaul, converged photonic/electronic integration, quantum information processing etc), underpinning the Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) and Digital Economy themes and contributing strongly to the themes of Energy (low energy lighting, low energy large area photonic/electronics for e-posters and window shading, photovoltaics, energy efficient displays), Manufacturing the Future (integrated photonic and electronic circuits, smart materials processing with photonics, embedded intelligence and interconnects for Industry 4.0), Quantum Technologies (device and systems integration for quantum communications and information processing) Healthcare Technologies (optical coherence tomography, discrete and real time biosensing, personalised healthcare), Global Uncertainties and Living with Environmental Change (resilient converged communications, advanced sensing systems incorporating electronics with photonics).


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S022139/1 30/09/2019 30/03/2028
2439067 Studentship EP/S022139/1 30/09/2020 30/07/2025