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New photonic glasses to shed light on biomedicine and environmental sciences

Published on 11.2.2021
Tampere University
Laeticia Petit on ensimmäinen nainen fysiikan alan professorina Tampereen yliopistossa.
Laeticia Petit on ensimmäinen nainen fysiikan alan professorina Tampereen yliopistossa. Kuva: Jonne Renvall.
The photonic glasses developed at Tampere University hold tremendous potential. Newly appointed Professor of Photonics Laeticia Petit leads projects that develop glass-based solutions for detecting microplastics in water and monitoring bone healing through skin without X-ray.

We use glasses every day without even noticing it, and new ways to utilise glass are being continuously discovered. The new photonic glasses can be used in various applications in all areas of modern life, especially in the fields of biomedicine and environment.

The Photonic Glasses group led by Professor Laeticia Petit at Tampere University fabricates and characterises glass-based materials for photonic and biophotonic applications.

“We develop fibres and films from glass materials for the fabrication of various devices. These glasses can be used, for example, as optical fibres, lasers, optical amplifiers, multicolour displays and Q-switched devices,” Laeticia Petit explains.

Now the group is, as part of the Flagship Programme on Photonics Research and Innovation (PREIN),  developing sensors which could be used to detect microplastic particles in water. This research is performed in collaboration with the University of Eastern Finland.

“This research is crucial as microplastics are everywhere. They are present in seas, lakes and oceans and also in drinking water. Recently, microplastics were even found in the placentas of unborn babies,” Petit notes.

Currently, Petit’s group is also developing a new bioimaging technique using novel glass-based implant in collaboration with the University of Turku.

“The implant can be optically charged through skin and imaged in-vivo. This technique is safe for the patient because it is possible to monitor the implant resorption and the bone healing without using X-rays,” Petit says.

By understanding the composition-structure-property relationships, it is possible to develop new glass compositions with tailored properties to suit specific application needs. Laeticia Petit hopes the group will be able to generate concrete devices from new glasses over the next few years.

Inspiring young people to learn science

Laeticia Petit has just been nominated as the full professor in the Physics Unit at Tampere University. She is the first woman as a professor in the field of physics at the university.

Originally from France, Laeticia Petit did her PhD at the University of Bordeaux in 2002. After that she continued her studies in the USA and worked as research assistant professor. In 2009 she was hired by nLIGHT Corporation in Lohja, Finland.

Her career has been promising; after joining the University in 2016 as assistant professor, she was promoted to associate professor in 2018 and to professor in the beginning of 2021. Since last August, she has also been working as the head of the International Bachelor’s Programme in Science and Engineering.

“It is really important that we have successful women in areas that are traditionally dominated by men, such as engineering and natural sciences. Succesful women provide inspiration and role models to girls who are interested in these disciplines but may hesitate to enter the field when they consider possible study and career paths,” states Martti Kauranen, dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Natural Sciences.

While the number of women studying in universities around the world has grown steadily, it has been estimated that only 30% of researchers are women. Laeticia Petit sees signs that the career prospects for female scientists are improving and hopes the growing number of female teaching staff will help to combat the stereotype about science being a male profession.

“During my post-doc period, I was lucky to have a strong female role model, and I hope to become one myself. When teaching or supervising, I always hope I can inspire the younger generation,” Petit states.

The Photonic Glasses research group includes Dr Arnaud Lemiere and Dr Nirajan Ojha as postdoctoral researchers and Mikko Hongisto and Reynald Ponte as PhD students. The other members of the group are MSc students Nicolas Garcia Arango and Ali Nadeem and BSc students Vilma Lahti, Otto Linros and Iisa Aromäki.

In the future, Laeticia Petit would like to focus more on biophotonics, namely biosensing and bioimaging. Besides carrying out research, she continues to teach, work in a laboratory, seek external funding and connect with potential new collaboration partners.

“New partners bring along new research areas. For example, I am pretty sure light could be more widely used in sensors or to treat infections and cancer,” she says.

Text: Anna Aatinen
Photo: Jonne Renvall