Gabriel Popescu gives April 13 Frontiers in MBM Lecture

Gabi PopescuGabriel Popescu, William L. Everitt Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and core faculty in MBM, spoke on “Phase imaging with computational specificity (PICS) for biomedical applications” April 13, 2022 at 4:00pm on Zoom. Shannon Berneche, MBM Trainee and PhD candidate in Neuroscience, gave an introduction.

The lecture is free and open to the public courtesy of the Miniature Brain Machinery Program.


Quantitative phase imaging (QPI) has gained significant interest, especially in the past decade, because of its ability to study unlabeled cells and tissues. As a result, QPI can extract structure and dynamics information from live cells without photodamage or photobleaching. However, in the absence of labels, QPI cannot identify easily particular structures in the cell, i.e., it lacks specificity. This represents the major limitation of QPI when applied in biomedicine.

Recently, deep learning techniques have been translating from consumer to scientific applications. For example, it has been shown that AI can map one form of contrast into another. Significantly, it has been demonstrated that the neural network can learn from label-free (bright field, phase contrast, DIC) and ground-truth fluorescence images to predict where specific fluorophores would bind in an unlabeled specimen.

Inspired by this prior work, we applied deep learning to QPI data, generated by SLIM and GLIM. These methods are white-light and common-path and, thus, provide high spatial and temporal sensitivity. Because they are add-on to existing microscopes and compatible with the fluorescence channels, these methods provide simultaneous phase and fluorescence from the same field of view. As a result, the training data necessary for deep learning is generated automatically.

We present a new microscopy concept, where the process of retrieving computational specificity is part of the acquisition software, performed in real-time. We demonstrate this idea with various fluorescence tags and operation on live cells as well as tissue pathology. This new type of microscopy can potentially replace some commonly used tags and stains and eliminate the inconveniences associated with phototoxicity and photobleaching. Phase imaging with computational specificity (PICS) has an enormous potential for biomedicine.


Gabriel Popescu is the William L. Everitt Distinguished Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He received his PhD in Optics from the School of Optics/ CREOL (now the College of Optics and Photonics), University of Central Florida.  He continued his training with the late Michael Feld at MIT, working as a postdoctoral associate. He joined Illinois in August 2007, where he directs the Quantitative Light Imaging Laboratory (QLI Lab) at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. He served as Associate Editor of Optics Express and Biomedical Optics Express, Editorial Board Member for Journal of Biomedical Optics, and Scientific Reports. He founded Phi Optics, Inc., a start-up company that commercializes quantitative phase imaging technology. He is a Fellow of OSA, SPIE, AIMBE, and Senior member of IEEE.

The Popescu Lab develops novel optical methods based on light scattering, interferometry, and microscopy, to image cells and tissues quantitatively and with nanoscale sensitivity. They apply their techniques to both basic science (e.g., cell dynamics, cell growth, intracellular transport, membrane fluctuations, tissue optics) and clinical applications (e.g., blood screening, cancer diagnosis).

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