Biophotonics Merge Medicine and Lasers

Bio- photo- whatics?  Can this be the career for you?

Bio- photo- whatics? Can this be the career for you?

Last March, we wrote about LaserFest, the year-long celebration of the laser’s 50th birthday. The celebration is still going strong, and so are new applications for lasers.

So, what career opportunities are there for someone studying lasers? According to the Laserfest website , the future is indeed bright for these powerful light sources. Besides powering extremely efficient computer and communications systems and providing alternative energy sources, medical applications for lasers are widespread, and growing. Laserfest notes that within the next five to ten years, doctors may be able to improve cancer diagnoses via lasers that illuminate cellular activity. In addition, lasers are expected to aid in the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease by measuring a protein called beta amyloid (associated with the disease) with a pulsed, blue laser aimed directly at the eye.

Technically known as Biophotonics, this field that merges medicine and lasers is defined as “the study of the interaction of light with biological material — where ‘light’ includes all forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon.” Simply put, biophotonics enable doctors to noninvasively image and analyze living tissue — everything from diagnostics to surgeries (such as Laser Eye Surgery). In fact, according to The Center for Biophotonics, Science and Technology (CBST), Biophotonics is widely regarded as the key science upon which the next generation of clinical tools and biomedical research instruments will be based.

The CBST is a great place to learn more about the field. Created in 2002 as part of a National Science Foundation project and located at the University of California Davis, the CBST is building an extensive network of schools, industrial partners and Biophotonics research centers to help prepare for the field’s rapidly developing advances. Here, you can learn about specific educational programs at community colleges and four-year colleges throughout the U.S., as well as learn more about the science of Biophotonics.

What would a typical Laser and Photonics curriculum look like? Check out the program at Central Carolina Community College, which we heard about in this week’s Episode. The CCCC program, which offers a specialized Biophotonics curriculum track, is designed to use the majority of its instruction time in lab environments to help students put classroom theory into action. And what makes for a successful experience? According to the CCCC, successful Photonics students enjoy problem-solving, working with their hands, and learning how things work. An interest in math and science is also valuable.

Finally, if you’d like to listen to stories about how lasers are being used in medicine and science (told with a British accent), tune in to Naked Scientists Podcasts. There, you’ll find news and interviews about everything from laser “tweezers” being used to pick up bacteria to laser cancer treatments and a laser technique that’s speeding DNA sequencing.

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