University of Cambridge

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PhD in Biomedical Optics: Wearable Spectroscopy for Metabolic Neuroimaging

About Us: The Neuro Optics Lab is a new, multidisciplinary research group that operates jointly between the Departments of Physics and Engineering at the University of Cambridge. We develop and validate new optical methods to monitor brain function and metabolism non-invasively. The lab currently focusses on near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS)-based methods to perform in-vivo monitoring of metabolic markers such as haemoglobin oxygenation, mitochondrial function and blood flow. We are interested in pioneering tools and techniques to monitor relevant physiology for both basic science and medical applications. Our work is highly translational and we work closely with clinical partners in Addenbrooke's Hospital to deliver technologies that progress medical therapeutics.

Project Description: NIRS is a prominent tool for functional brain imaging in situations where traditional neuroimaging (e.g. fMRI) isn't possible, such as intensive care or in the community. Our lab develops broadband spectroscopy techniques to perform metabolic monitoring with NIRS. This has unique applications in brain injury, autism and dementia. To facilitate the translation of these tools into the clinic, devices need to be developed to cover the whole brain that are non-invasive and wearable, to perform metabolic imaging where is it most needed. The successful candidate will test and develop novel technological solutions to perform wearable broadband spectroscopy. These solutions could range from those developed in-house, existing equipment within our laboratories, or with industry. On successful demonstration of wearable single-channel on-head spectroscopy, they will pursue the development of a multichannel system for whole-head metabolic imaging. This project will involve creating new computational methods alongside experimental optics to achieve diffuse optical imaging of cerebral metabolic function. These devices will be validated with test objects which mimic biological optical properties and on healthy human volunteers.

This project is in collaboration with the Dr Sarah Bohndiek (VISIONLab, in the Department of Physics.

This system will ultimately be deployed in the Addenbrooke's Hospital to investigate optical metabolic biomarkers of dementia with Prof John O'Brien, Department of Psychiatry.

Desirable Skills: A background in optics/photonics and experience with programming (MATLAB, Python, etc.) would be advantageous. The candidate must have (or expect to obtain) a 1st or 2:1 degree in physics, engineering, or a related subject. Candidates with previous industrial or academic research experience and a strong interest in the project will also be considered. We value a candidate with the desire to learn, create and innovate.

The successful candidate will have a strong interest in optical technologies and experimental work. They should: enjoy working at the interface between different disciplines; be keen to take the initiative with independent creativity and problem solving; and exhibit strong motivation toward the project. In addition, they will require: excellent oral and written communication skills; good team working skills; and a strong critical thinking capability. Examples of any past experience that demonstrates these characteristics should be highlighted in the cover letter that accompanies any application. We expect the candidate will develop into an independent experimental researcher and will present their work in academic journals and conferences.

Further Information: Interest in or requests for more information about the project should be made to Dr Gemma Bale ( and Prof Sarah Bohndiek ( with the subject line "Wearable Spectroscopy PhD" before application to the University.

This 3.5-year studentship will cover home level University fees and a maintenance allowance.

Applications should be submitted via the University of Cambridge Applicant Portal, with Dr Gemma Bale identified as the potential supervisor.

The University actively supports equality, diversity and inclusion and encourages applications from all sections of society.