Recently, OnePlanet Research Center’s Biomedical Researcher Xu Zhang successfully completed his PhD defense. First of all, we congratulate Dr. Zhang on his PhD in Biomedical Optics! Secondly, we are curious about how he did it. Let’s have a chat with Xu to find out.

“The innovative aspect in my study is that I exploited new functionality of spectroscopic techniques as a refractive index sensor. The invention is simple to use and has many promising applications in both healthcare and agriculture.”

You just finished your PhD. Can you explain (in layman’s term) what it’s about?

During my PhD I focused on investigating the interaction between light and tissue. Tissue can be a lot of things. For example, your skin, surface water or plants. Many useful information such as the structure and the composition of tissue can be extracted from optical signal. Simple example: optical PPG sensors in many sports watches is one simple example. Based on the periodic pattern of the skin reflectance, heartbeat of the user can be determined, to monitor the health condition and sports performance. The innovative aspect in my study is that I exploited new functionality of spectroscopic techniques as a refractive index sensor. The invention is simple to use and has many promising applications in both healthcare and agriculture.

How is this topic related to your work at OnePlanet Research Center?

I am glad that I can carry the knowledge and skillset that I acquired during my PhD research to put in the work I’m doing right now. Those health applications I mentioned above, are relevant for my work at OnePlanet Research Center. Although, right after I started at the company as part of the Health team, I became involved in the Agriculture&Food team. For example, I am currently involved in developing a nitrate measurement device based on optical sensing.

How was it to finishing a PhD while working fulltime at OnePlanet Research Center?

Actually, my managers gave me a lot of support. They all have been through similar times when they once did their PhD. They understand that it can be quite challenging. So, they gave me a lot of freedom. Still, it was a tough time, since after work I continued to write papers. But it’s worth it. In total I have published five papers in peer reviewed journals. Two of them were published during my work at OnePlanet Research Center.

“It is critically important to ensure consistent food production, especially in times of crisis.”

What was your biggest learning from your PhD?

I learned to be a problem solver: how to solve a problem without having much prior experiences. The topic of my PhD was assigned by my professors. Before I specialized in photonics and electronics. I didn’t know much about biomedical engineering at all. Suddenly I had to start my research at Amsterdam UMC. When I was put in that situation, I was really pushed to learn how to search for information, make efficient planning, execute and move forward

What are your ambitions/plans for the (near) future?

I define myself as a lifelong learner. I enjoy learning new stuff and getting involved in new projects all the time. Hopefully I get the time to keep on learning. And use my experience and knowledge to help OnePlanet Research Center to move forward. To start initiatives and maximize my impact and values in and outside the company.

What if… you could make a futuristic change/development, what would it be?

What if… we can ensure the access to good quality food for everyone?

The Future Greenhouse is one of the topics that I’m working on within OnePlanet Research Center. We aim at developing AI and sensor driven greenhouses, to maximize the economic profit with efficient resource use. Moreover, it is critically important to ensure consistent food production, especially in times of crisis. The global COVID-19 pandemic has brough to light shortcomings in the current global food supply chain. Driving the automation of modern greenhouses to another level can definitely help us with that.

Interested in working at OnePlanet Research Center?

We have multiple job openings to expand our team in Gelderland. Check out the job openings here.