OWLS8 conference and CUDOS research lab travel report
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 Gu’s group from Swinburne University of Technology, located in
Melbourne, Australia. Min’s 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 of“Tetris”, 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.