Monday, 1 February 2016

Figures behind the Figures: Prof Adrian Podoleanu

Each term I feature a different Kent award winner in the Research Services newsletter, looking at their research and discussing their career path and funding track record. I thought it would be worth adding these to the Blog. The first to feature is Prof Adrian Podoleanu, Professor of Biomedical Optics in the School of Physical Sciences.

Prof Adrian Podoleanu
When I met Adrian Podoleanu in the Gulbenkian he had just come from saying goodbye to a group from NKT, a Danish company that is one of the world’s leading producers of optical equipment. Together they had secured a European Industrial Doctorate (EID) from the EC, which funds five doctoral students.

As well as the studentships, there are fringe benefits from such collaboration: NKT are providing Adrian with two £50k lasers to use. But then Adrian has always seen the benefit of working with others, and collaboration is at the heart of his success in getting funding. ‘Unless you take your research out there, you die,’ he said. ‘I speak to people all the time.’

This has paid off in a number of productive collaborations internally, (with Biosciences, EDA, Computing, Pharmacy and KentHealth), but also in links with a number of hospitals (such as the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, Northwick Park Hospital London and local NHS Trusts in Ashford and Maidstone) that allow him to undertake research with patients, as well as companies and universities across the world.

Such connections are crucial to his work, which focuses on a technology called optical coherence tomography (OCT). Essentially, this is akin to an ‘optical ultrasound’, producing cross-sectional images non-invasively.

He has used OCT predominantly in imaging the eye, but has also had funding from Leverhulme to help in the conservation of priceless paintings. ‘That came about through a meeting at a conference with a researcher at the National Gallery’, he said. The grant that resulted funded an ‘outstanding’ student, who has gone on to work at Imperial and is now a co-investigator on a forthcoming project. 

Whilst productive, these collaborations and applications are time consuming. ‘An application easily takes a third of year,’ he said, and the final 5% of the application, in which the style and formatting are honed, takes at least 30% of the time. ‘It doesn’t improve the substance, but it makes the application accessible and readable to the reviewers. And that is crucial.’

Time is an issue for him, and his days are too short. ‘It’s hard to balance my funded research (which accounts for 86% of his time) with the demands of teaching and administration.’ With a team of four RAs and ten PhDs drawn from around the world he continues to forge links, to explore new areas, and to prepare new projects. As I left him he was planning to put the finishing touches on another application for a large grant. ‘I’ve been working on it since March,’ he said. 'It’s hard work to get it right ’.

It’s hard, but incredibly fruitful. Over the past decade he has won 28 awards totalling more than £6m. Despite this, he is very self-effacing. ‘It’s the people I work with,’ he said. ‘they are the ones who move the research forward.’

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