LUCA Junior Researchers: Interview with Lorenzo Cortese

Interview with Dr. Lorenzo Cortese

How did you learn about the project?

I met Turgut Durduran when I was a PhD student. I was attending a summer school in Cargése, Corsica, on “waves in complex system” and Turgut’s talk was completely different compared to the rest of the extremely theoretical talks. I believe I can consider that moment as a breaking point for me since I began to show interest and follow new advances in medical optics and realize that diffuse optics could have a very high impact in innovative technological developments for the medical field. When I finished my PhD, I contacted Turgut to see if there was a possibility of working for him as a postdoc. During my interview, Turgut offered me the possibility of working on the LUCA project, an innovative technology project, where the kind of research I would have to carry out would be completely different to what I had done previously.

Personally, I like it a lot, most of all, the multidisciplinary aspect of the initiative. It is quite normal to work with medical doctors, engineers, interact with patients and discuss basic physics every day. I’m also learning a lot working in collaboration with companies... It is a completely new world for me!

Based on your previous work experience, what kind of learning experiences do you bring to this project?

Although I have a lot of experience in experimental optics and instrumentation, my research has also been focused on photonics of biological systems, such as structural coloration of plants and animals, which have been an inspiration for the development of new advanced photonic materials (bioinspired photonics). In fact, my PhD thesis studies focused on theory of light diffusion applied to particular optical properties of two species of white beetles of South-East Asia that are characterized by an extremely brilliant white reflectance.

Even though my doctoral studies were focused on fundamental, basic research, I ended up covering different fields of study, ranging from bio- to nanophotonics, from fabrication to modelling, etc., which is something that I believe I can bring to this project. I have always been very interested in applied research and the impact this research could have on technology. That is why I am very enthusiastic about working on LUCA.

What were your major challenges at the beginning of the project?

At first, I encountered several issues and problems when trying to create device interfaces that should be up and running, ready to perform measurements in hospitals, on patients... Luckily, I work together with Giuseppe Lo Presti, my colleague from ICFO, who has experience in medical devices and technologies since he is a biomedical engineer, and together we have worked at solving these issues. I also became aware at the beginning that there were many medical concepts concerning thyroid anatomy and physiology that were completely new to me, so I spent part of last summer studying endocrinology to acquire these concepts and terminology. Never during my PhD studies did I imagine I would be doing this. This was definitely a learning experience, which has allowed me to broaden my field of knowledge into other areas of science that I had not considered before.

As far as challenges are concerned, we have dealt with the interpretation of measurements and have had to model the theory in order to get meaningful results. We have also had to search for various alternatives to optimize the design of the ergonomic probe so that the clinicians using the device could handle it in a very easy manner.

Tell us about LUCA and the team you are working with.

The background diversity of all team members is very interesting. When we discuss different topics, everyone contributes in a very productive manner. The environment encourages exciting discussions that range from medicine one day to basic physics or robotics on another.

What is your role in the project?

Both Giuseppe and I have been working together quite a lot in such a way that our work overlaps quite often. We both try to do everything since we believe that we should both have the same capabilities and knowledge to carry out all lab (or all hospital) tasks and assignments. I have more experience in optics and modelling while Giuseppe has experience in robotics and medical instruments. But the fact that we work together, side by side, every day, has made us learn from one another. And even though we have different backgrounds and, at the beginning, I did more data analysis and managed the optical element tasks while Giuseppe dealt with instrument programming and design custom components, such as the combined ultrasound-optical probe, now we very much assist one another in everything.

Dr. Lorenzo Cortese

Lorenzo obtained his Physics degree from Università degli Studi di Firenze, in Italy, and his Master’s degree in Physics and Astrophysics, specializing in Matter Physics. He then pursued a PhD degree at the International Doctorate in Atomic and Molecular Photonics in LENS, the European Laboratory for Non-Linear Spectroscopy, in Italy, in the group led by Prof. Diederik Wiersma.

He is interested in photonics, diffuse optics and experimental optics in general. He has experience in experimental optics and instrumentation: laser sources, detectors, optical components, microscopy, imaging techniques, among others. He also specialized in micro/nano fabrication with 3D direct laser writing lithography, acquiring extensive knowledge in photonic structure manufacturing, ranging from photonic crystals, to disordered or amorphous (hyperuniform) structures. He has in-depth knowledge (theoretical and experimental) of diffuse optics, light propagation and transport in complex optical systems. In addition, he has experience working in clean room environment, in particular contributing in assembling one from scratch for the LENS research group.

Posted on Thursday 15 June 2017