Interview with Fellows

“Good questions are so helpful in creating new ideas”. Interview with MULTIPLY Fellow Foziyeh Sohrabi

Dr. Foziyeh Sohrabi has received her Ph.D. in July 2019 on “Design and Optimization of a Sensor based on Plasmonics for Neuroscience Application” whose 17 months were completed at EPFL – École Polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne. After that, she was a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Shahid Beheshti University and the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. In July 2021, Foziyeh started her MULTIPLY Fellowship at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia. We asked her about the main goal of her research and scientific field, where she works – biophotonics.

Covid impacted your MULTIPLY fellowship a lot: you weren’t able to start at your first Host Institution and we’ve found a new place for you, thank Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia for this. Did you find any benefits in the Covid situation around the world?
You are right. COVID-19 and its caused restrictions (e.g. closure of some of the embassies) affected my fellowship a lot. I missed the timing for joining the first host. However, thanks to the effort of MULTIPLY, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) presented the interest to be my substitutional host. In my opinion, the emergence of COVID-19 highlighted the role of scientists in saving human being. For sure, this issue will encourage funding in the science and correspondingly, the amount of scientific achievements will grow.

You are just starting your project. Much time has passed since the proposal was written. Have your interests changed, will you change something in the originally planned project?
A good question. The proposal was written in 2019 and I have started the project recently (July 2021). Before starting my fellowship at IIT, I was a postdoc at the Institute of Photonics and Electronics at the Czech Academy of Sciences. This experience gave me lots of experience related to my previously written proposal. With this perspective, I would like to make some optimization in the proposal. On the other hand, I have written the proposal based on the equipment and focus of the previous host. By joining IIT, I have active link with Sapienza University of Roma. This gives me a perspective toward the ongoing projects at the groups I joined and based on the facilities and equipment of the lab, I can work on the application part of the proposal.

Please tell us more about your scientific interests. This is biophotonics, isn’t it?
Yes, that is right. My scientific interest is Biophotonics. I am working on biosensors that are mostly focused on plasmonics. However, I am recently working on all-dielectric and hybrid (metal-dielectric) structures as well.

Are these areas related?
Yes, they are related. Plasmonic, all-dielectric and hybrid structures can all be used as biosensing chips. In other words, there are different structures used for the same goal.

What is the main goal of your research?
The main goal of the proposal is to provide a high throughput diagnostic system based on biofluid infrared spectroscopy. My general academic goal is to apply optical tools for highly-resolved sensing/spectroscopy/imaging applications. My main goal is to develop biosensor technologies for point-of-care and therapeutic devices. My training was focused on nanotechnology mainly the design, fabrication, characterization and optimization of photonic devices. My research experiences provide me a multi-disciplinary perspective toward various aspects of biophotonics and optical sensors.

This sounds very impressive. If all goes well, what impact will it have on the lives of people?
Diagnosis of a disease at an early stage decreases the pain as well as decreasing the death cases (e.g. in cancer cases). Sometimes it can also eliminate the wide spreading of a disease for example viral ones like COVID-19. Another point is about proposing a technique that is user-friendly, cost-efficient, and fast.

How fast is your scientific field developing and changing?
Superfast! Previously when I wanted to dig into the recent literature review, I focused on the recent 10 years. However, now I have to limit myself to the last 5 years since there are considerable updates in the targeted field during the last 5 years!

Does it happen that any of your ideas, which seems cool, has already been implemented by someone?
Yes! sometimes I came to an idea and then I understood it was implemented by someone before me. In order to move with the cutting-knowledge science, we should be up to date at every stage …

What helps you find new ideas for work in your field?
Sometimes the works of other scientists are inspiring and flashing a light in my mind. Good questions are so helpful in creating new ideas in my opinion. It also happens that in the middle of an experiment we face new optical behavior that gives us clues for new ideas.

What was your most important scientific finding?
During my PhD, I started working on neuroplasmonics. I found out that using plasmonic-based optical methods, we could record the neural activity at different scales (i.e. cell scale, tissue scale and in vivo). This gave me a good vision for my future biophotonics projects. After that, I worked on microcopy-imaging systems, cellular interaction detection, etc. and the way continues…