Press release

Dundee physicist granted £1.4 million to make the invisible visible

Published on 27 September 2019

A University of Dundee physicist has been awarded £1.4million in funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to develop the next generation of microscopes

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Dr Tom Vettenburg, who was awarded a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship, says that because ordinary microscopes cannot see through the outer ‘skin’ of a growing organism, they leave many questions unanswered – questions he intends to bring into focus by developing a computational microscope that can see beyond the blur of deep tissue.

“The invention of the optical microscope made it possible to highlight the fine features of living cells with unprecedented clarity,” said Dr Vettenburg, Lecturer in Physics at the University’s School of Science and Engineering.

“However, cells isolated on a microscope slide often do not behave as they would in their natural environment and despite the recent development of planar illumination light-sheet microscopes, which allow visualisation of transparent organisms during development, many tissues are simply too opaque to be studied.

“We lack the tools necessary to keep track of cell migration and differentiation and all too often we only see a blurry haze beyond the first layers of cells. To deepen our understanding of nature, we first need to overcome the depth limit in microscopy.”

Dr Vettenburg believes that the grant will allow him and his team to visualise the biological development process as it happens, which in turn could benefit fields such as regenerative medicine.

“Currently, an estimated 70% of the UK's healthcare expenditure goes towards the management of chronic disease. Developing a direct view into the inner workings of the biological development process is essential to develop effective regenerative-medicine therapies that can, in the long term, turn chronic diseases into curable conditions.”

UKRI Future Leaders Fellowships support early career researchers and innovators with outstanding potential. More than 70 top researchers from across the country receive a portion of a £78 million cash boost as part of UK Research and Innovation’s Future Leaders Fellowships.

The investment will propel the next generation of researchers as they lead cutting-edge projects.

Professor Sir Mark Walport, UK Research and Innovation’s Chief Executive, said, “The Future Leaders Fellowships will enable the most promising researchers and innovators to become leaders in their fields, working on subjects as diverse as climate change, dementia and quantum computing.

“UKRI is committed to creating modern research and innovation careers and our Future Leaders Fellowships aim to support and retain the most talented people, including those with flexible career paths.”


Press Office, University of Dundee
Story category Research