Considering the year of the Portugal-France Season 2022 and with the support of the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, the French Ministry of Culture, the Camões Institute – Institute of Cooperation and Language and the Office of Cultural Strategy, Planning and Evaluation (GEPAC), the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation of France (MESRI) and the French Academy of Sciences awarded four “Prix Tremplin Mariano Gago” awards. 84,000 euros was the amount attributed to four scientific pairs. Among the winners is the pair composed by Professor Marta Fajardo, professor of the Department of Physics (DF) and researcher of the Institute of Plasmas and Nuclear Fusion (IPFN), and Professor Hamed Merdji, with the NanoXIMAGES project.
The project, which has a practical application in the area of nanotechnologies (technologies in which there is manipulation of matter at the atomic and molecular scale, to create new materials and processes), aaims to prove that it is possible to reconstruct an X-ray image of an object through a process with incoherent light. The main benefit of this technique is to open new perspectives in the laboratories “because to make these images with coherent light it was necessary to go to giant infrastructures, but if you can do it with incoherent light is much more compact. We are able to build a microscope that can be used in any laboratory without having to mobilize, for example, a team of three scientists and use a large machine,” explains the researcher.
But how does this process work? “When waves hit obstacles, they spread and make interference patterns. And they spread into several dots on the detector. And we can see the various points of light appearing. And from this information, we know the relationship between the pattern that appears and how the object is, in reality. Then, with a computer and through an algorithm we are able to reconstruct the object (the initial image),” she says.
This technique has a strong applicability for the area of medicine and biology.
Marta Fajardo also leads a project funded by the European Innovation Council, NanoXCAN, from which NanoXIMAGES now derives. “This is a simpler project, in which we see the absorption contrast (see what is opaque and what is not) depending on the color with which we are lighting, the wavelength of the X-rays and try to prove this new concept of incoherent image by diffraction (physical phenomenon that occurs when a wave encounters an obstacle, creating a widening of the waves, spreading them in all directions)”, she explains.
For the Técnico, the advantage is also to promote the participation of master’s students in multidisciplinary projects. Until now, the proposals for master’s themes were individual. Through this project it will be possible to present proposals by teams, where students can work with cutting-edge technologies, in addition to having the opportunity to participate in a project that includes an exchange component. “Here the most obvious skills are physics, mathematics, computer science, and biomedical, too. These are the most evident, but then we can also think about the management part, to do the business plan. The idea is: everyone works on the same topic and each one gives its input”, explains Professor Marta Fajardo.
Strengthening bilateral research cooperation between two Franco-Portuguese teams and promoting their continuation and expansion within a 2-year research project was the main objective of awarding these awards. The selection criteria were based on the quality of the preliminary results of the collaboration and scientific excellence of the project, the quality of the candidates and laboratories involved, the added value to be provided through bilateral collaboration, and future collaboration prospects.
The projects were selected by an international jury coordinated by MESRI, the French Academy of Sciences and the Lisbon Academy of Sciences, composed of French and Portuguese scientists. The official award ceremony will take place on June 21, 2022 at the Grand Hall of the French Academy of Sciences.