Reflections from the 2020 Milton and Rosalind Chang Pivoting Fellow

By Nirmal Punjabi, Optica Early-Career Member, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, India

Progress in June, July & August:

This blog is part of the ongoing update report for Milton and Rosalind Chang Pivoting Fellowship 2020. Since I was awarded the Pivoting Fellowship in October 2020, I have been working towards developing a vibrant optical sensor community. The community will bring together optical sensor users (researchers, students, citizen scientists, industry, academia) from different domains to build and translate optical sensors to various essential applications, especially in environmental, healthcare, and agriculture/food applications. The interaction amongst the community will support the development of evidence-based policies for improving the reach of various optical sensors to end-users.

Caption: Screenshot from the Webinar with Dr. Federico Formenti.

This quarter was significantly more engaging compared to the previous one, where covid19 had stalled the work.  I participated in Optica (formerly OSA) Optical Sensors and Sensing Congress 2021 and interacted with researchers, learning about the latest trends in the field and getting feedback from various researchers about the challenges to translate the sensors. I also participated in Elsevier Summer School on Biosensors commercialization to explore how various sensor groups are trying to translate work from lab research to market. I got many insights about the challenges in such initiatives. Additionally, I had the opportunity to interact with various experts like Prof. Francis Ligler, who has been involved in successfully translating different optical sensors into start-up companies. I am continuing to connect with various stakeholders in the optical sensor ecosystem to understand further the best practices and challenges that the community can focus on.

One of the critical developments in this quarter was launching a non-profit 'Optical Sensing and Monitoring Community' LinkedIn page. This non-profit community will bring together the optical sensor stakeholders (researcher, end-users, policy makers, regulatory bodies), to share their learning, provide support by conducting webinars and small group meet-ups, maintain a network website, outreach, newsletters, and also tinkering lab for opensource community projects, etc. Access to the to the community page can be found here:

The community provides both network and support to the members, which is seen in the images of the logo.

The first webinar hosted by the community was presented by Dr. Federico Formenti, King's College London, and the University of Oxford, UK. He shared his experience on how the sensors they developed for oxygen sensing have progressed from lab setup to animal testing in ICU and are now progressing towards human trials. This was helpful for the participants to get a perspective of the development of sensors for healthcare applications. The video was also live-streamed and is currently available on YouTube channel for the benefit of the community. For those interested, here is a link to the talk:

I was also invited for a webinar by the IIT Indore IEEE student chapter for their ‘Tech-Talks’ webinar series. There, I presented on ‘Fiber-Optic Biosensors for Water Quality Assessment’. The interaction was exciting, and I was able to highlight the importance of community and inter-department interaction in translating sensors from lab to end-users. This was part of my continuing outreach to industry and academic researchers to get their feedback and mentorship to develop the community better.

I am currently working on the community website, which should be ready to launch next month. The website will have the option to video and  voice chat amongst the community website users. Preparation of a database of companies and researchers working in optical sensing to help other interested researchers/citizen scientists be aware of the ecosystem is also underway. Another work in progress is the development of the first optical sensor tinkering facility of the community is in progress which will be hosted in Mumbai, India. With the relaxation of covid19 related restrictions, I have procured a refractometer and some optical fiber, which will be like a base for understanding how externally similar appearing liquids may be significantly different. More tools like optical spectrometers, light sources, etc., will be arriving soon. I am reaching out to various industry and academic institutes to share their old/excess optical tools, which will provide a hands-on learning experience for users/students who have not used various optical tools.

Hopefully, the next quarter will be more productive and bring together more interested persons in this effort. I am grateful to the Optica Foundation Fellowship team for their continuous support.


Posted: 19 October 2021 by Nirmal Punjabi, Optica Early-Career Member, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, India | with 0 comments

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