Gabriel Popescu writes the book on innovative new imaging technique

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By Heather Punke, ECE ILLINOIS
January 19, 2012

  • Gabriel Popescu has written a new book describing an innovative, new kind of microscopy.
  • This new method of quantitative phase imaging can visualize transparent structures without using contrast agents and can quantify thicknesses, volumes, and motions of tissues.
  • The book is highly interdisciplinary, encompassing optics, microscopy, holography, and biology.

Gabriel  Popescu
Gabriel Popescu

ECE Assistant Professor Gabriel Popescu’s first book—or as he affectionately called it, his “baby”—is now on the shelves. The book, Quantitative Phase Imaging of Cells and Tissues (McGraw-Hill, 2011), discusses a new kind of microscopy that has been developing rapidly in recent years.

“The method is different from its older relatives because it’s quantitative, as the name suggests. The word phase indicates that nanoscale information can be retrieved from biological structures,” explained Popescu, a researcher in the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.

In the past, microscopy has been used mainly as a visualization method. “It was a method to look at tissues, visualize their structures, see the cells, but not necessarily associate numbers with them,” Popescu said. “That’s what we’re trying to fill in.”

The new method of microscopy covered in his book can visualize various transparent structures without labeling them with contrast agents, but, more importantly, can quantify thicknesses, volumes, and motions of cells and tissues. “If you quantify these images, then you’re able to apply engineering signal processing and physics models—go beyond the pretty pictures and treat the images as signals, as information,” Popescu said.

“For example, based on the quantitative data, we can start describing in equations, based on physical models, the behavior of, say, a live cell. Then, we can hope that one day we will be able to predict this behavior with high accuracy, which, in my mind is our final goal.”

Popescu had his students in mind when he started laying out the topics his book would cover. “When starting new graduate students in my lab, I experienced how difficult it was to provide an effective ‘start-up package’ in terms of learning material; it was always a combination of many articles and books, which suffered from lack of a unifying structure, inconsistent notations, and redundancy. My first motivation for writing the book was to allow my students to jump right into the field,” he said.

This sequence of images shows a cell dividing. These images were optained using the quantitative phase imaging technique.
This sequence of images shows a cell dividing. These images were optained using the quantitative phase imaging technique.

The topic of the book is highly interdisciplinary, so students have to know about optics, microscopy, holography, and biology. “That makes it very difficult for them to start in this type of research,” Popescu explained. Therefore, he paid attention to providing introductory material on optics principles so the book would be self-contained. “So basically, I wanted to sum it up in one place, at least to get them started.”

Besides reviewing the work by many groups across the world, the book includes research that Popescu and his team have been conducting at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois. Popescu expressed thanks and gratitude towards his colleagues. “Clearly, without the work of my peers and coworkers, this book wouldn’t be here. Hopefully this is a way of giving them something back that will be useful.”

Beautiful images from the quantitative phase imaging are scattered throughout the book. The microscopy method produces colorful pictures of cells and tissues that can be interpreted quantitatively. Popescu said that the Krannert Museum of Art even displayed an image of a live neuron couple of years ago.

Popescu believes the timing of the book’s release is good because the field is growing quickly. He hopes his book will help “as many people as possible jump into the field.”

More information can be found on Popescu’s Quantitative Light Imaging Laboratory website.

Popescu edited another book, Nanobiophotonics (McGraw-Hill, 2010). This book covers broad topics from the Biophotonics Summer School, which Popescu and colleagues from Illinois have been organizing since 2009.

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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