COE Study Abroad Project Report


OWLS8 conference and CUDOS research lab travel report(Australia)

Smith Nicolas, Assistant Professor

To attend the 8th International Conference on Optics within Life Sciences, and to visit researchers in Sydney University who are affiliated with our nanophotonics research.

I left the country on the night of the 26th of November and took an overnight flight to Melbourne. All flights to Melbourne must stop over in Brisbane, where there is usually a wait time of a few hours. This trip required passing through Immigration in Brisbane, then a transfer to a domestic flight from Brisbane to Melbourne. I arrived in the afternoon of the 27th of November. The conference started the next day, with most of the speakers meeting for registration, followed by the first meeting of the conference.
The research funding in Australia is low compared to other countries. The relatively low funding rate coupled with the small population of the country means that it can be hard to attract researchers to an international conference that is hosted in Australia. For the OWLS8 conference, there was no such problem. The attendees came from over 27 different countries, and the total number of attendees was approximately 200. The OWLS committee actively solicits presenters from underfunded or developing countries, and backs up the invitations to present with a number of travel scholarships. These are only available to developing countries and in this case went to three researchers, from Ghana, Russia, and China (researchers from Japan are not eligible). In this case, there were more than 9 researchers from Japan attending the conference. A large proportion of them were from Hokkaido University, with others from Osaka University.
The conference was hosted by several groups, but was mainly organised by Min Gufs group from Swinburne University of Technology, located in Melbourne, Australia. Minfs group has active collaborations with the work we are doing in our group. They have been active in confocal microscopy, near-field microscopy of biological samples, as well as photonic crystal research. The Swinburne group is now moving into the field of biophotonics, so that they were the ideal hosts for the OWLS conference.
The conference spanned 4 days, including a short field trip and dinner. During most of the sessions, there were two parallel sessions running, sometimes with similar topics running parallel. Unfortunately, this meant that missing out on some of the most interesting talks was inevitable, but even attending a single session, there was a variety of content, encompassing interesting and often unique research fields. The overall content was similar to the work which is presented in the more well-known FOM (Focus on Microscopy) conference. Many of the attendees attend both conferences, however, the scope of OWLS is wider.

Fruitful areas of the conference and the CUDOS visit:
Since the conference does not specify microscopy, there are a wider range of attendees, presenting a superb range of topics, including optical trapping. The closing talk was a review of the state of the art in optical trapping and included a demonstration of a field of 20 beads being simultaneously and independently controlled by optical trapping. To demonstrate control, the researchers moved the beads in a manner similar to the well-known computer game ofgTetrish, however the scientific implications are that they now have control over micromanipulation with multiple independent traps that could, for example, be used to manipulate beads that were attached to multiple strands of DNA or other molecules. The other impressive demonstration of optical trapping was in cell sorting. Free flowing cells were sorted into two different streams based on the differences in their size and optical properties. This can be applied to make a device for optically separating white and red blood cells, for example, as they flow past a laser system.
Other notable demonstrations included new advances in laser-based microsurgery and laser ablation with minimal impact to surrounding areas. Researchers are now showing that laser microsurgery can be used on the cellular level to eliminate one small area of a cell without affecting cell viability as a whole. This is one field that our group in Osaka University has contributed significantly to, and we are now seeing the area becoming more popular as the use of Ti:Sapphire lasers becomes more prevalent.
Of course, these are only a few examples from the OWLS conference. Since optics was first put to use in life sciences in the form of microscopy, there were also a significant number of contributions in the field of microscopy covering: advanced conventional microscopy, microscopy techniques, microscopy theory, and nonlinear microscopy. Additionally, there were new advances announced in nearfield imaging, spectroscopy, and some wider areas such as environmental monitoring and some medical areas such as endoscopy, and photodynamic therapy presented.
The second leg of my research trip was to visit the Centre for Ultrahigh Bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS) in Sydney. The CUDOS centre opened in 2003 and includes collaborations with many local and overseas universities. One of the board members for CUDOS is Min Gu, a longtime collaborator with our lab and the host of the OWLS8 conference. Due to this connection, we are collaborating with the research done in CUDOS. I visited all areas of the laboratory, met with the director, co-director and many of the research fellows. CUDOS is comprised of researchers from a multi-discliplinary background, however, the majority of the current research is focused on high speed photonic switching devices. Our research in Osaka University uses the same technology, using the same equipment and same type of measurement experiments, but with a different purpose. One of the advances in nanophotonics that has been demonstrated by our laboratory is the whole-field fabrication of photonic crystals, and other nanofabrication techniques. The similar background allowed me to clearly understand the motivations for the research activities at CUDOS and I shared many fruitful discussions with the researchers of the CUDOS project.

Next Steps: After the OWLS conference, the conference organiser and OWLS president Min Gu, will visit our laboratories to discuss further collaborations. We will also receive a Masters/PhD student from his lab who will study with us from April 2005, funded by the Monbukagakusho scholarship. There is also a high probability that some of the staff of CUDOS will come to visit our laboratories in Applied Physics and Frontier Biosciences in the future.