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Institute for Life Sciences


Imaging has become an essential part of scientific research, from biomedical sciences to engineering to optoelectronics. Most fundamental developments have come to fruition because of imaging. Our scientists are using ground-breaking imaging techniques to solve some of society’s biggest challenges in areas such as reproductive medicine, cancer and plant biology.

Image credit: Prof Sumeet Mahajan

Our research, which span fields such as optoelectronics, medicine, physics, chemistry and biology, are developing pioneering imaging techniques from the nano to the macroscale, to overcome research limitations and push the boundaries in areas such as reproductive health, plant biology, cancer immunology and regenerative medicine.

We are using it for diagnosis within clinical medicine, the delivery and objective monitoring of subsequent therapy.  It provides unique insights into causation of disease, pathophysiology and the translation of novel treatments from the laboratory into patients.

The large palette of state-of-the-art facilities and novel technologies at Southampton for imaging offer international interdisciplinary opportunities for research and collaboration between scientists and with industry and include:

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Please see a selection of postgraduate courses related to this subject area below. 

For the full range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses at the University of Southampton, please visit our courses webpages

MSc Biomedical Engineering

This masters course will equip you with the specialist knowledge, expertise and skills to integrate biology and medicine with engineering to solve problems related to living systems.

MSc Optical Fibre Technologies

This MSc involves technologies that harness the power of light such as lasers & optical fibres. An exciting engineering field with applications in precision tools used in industry & medicine.

MSc Micro and Nanotechnology

This programme includes microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and nanoelectronics, microtechnology and nanotechnology aspects of electronic engineering and their application in micro and nanoscale devices.

MSc Instrumental Analytical Chemistry

This analytical chemistry masters is structured around a solid core comprised of the three main analytical techniques – mass spectrometry, NMR spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction.

PhD Programme - Medicine

Full and part-time PhDs in a broad range of specialist areas in Medicine, including biomedicine, research in clinical environments and population-based statistical studies.

Deep tissue theranostic imaging

Funded by a recent Transformative Healthcare 2050 award from the EPSRC an interdisciplinary team of Southampton based scientists and researchers are developing new fibre lasers and novel methodologies that will allow early detection, imaging and treatment deep inside tissues up to several millimetres and ultimately up to several centimetres. The imaging process is aimed to be completely non-invasive and non-destructive, whilst providing near instant results. The current target applications are melanoma and musculoskeletal diseases such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.

The project is part of a larger cross-institutional team effort wherein new detectors and novel computational methods will be contributed by the University of Edinburgh and the University of Nottingham, respectively. The overall team consists of chemists, biologists, physicists, computer scientists, laser, electronics and biomedical engineers as well as clinicians in a truly collaborative effort to transform the practice of disease diagnosis and treatment at both the community and specialist healthcare level.

Contact: Prof Sumeet MahajanProf David Richardson and Prof Richard Oreffo 

Label-free chemical nanoscopy

Our teams are developing new imaging technology that has the potential to revolutionize research and biomedical understanding by opening doors to ‘unseen biology’ that could unravel disease, viral infection and allergy mechanisms and ultimately, yield better diagnostics and therapeutics.

Current practice uses conventional microscopy, which does not have adequate spatial resolution to dive deeper into the sample. It is a challenge to image developing molecules quickly and without risk of damaging them.

But Southampton researchers are developing ultra-high resolution technology using various light modulation approaches for label-free optical techniques such as second harmonic generation (SHG), vibrational sum frequency generation (vSFG) and coherent Raman scattering (CRS). This will allow ultra-high spatial resolution and give unprecedented new insight into many biochemical processes.

Contact: Prof Sumeet Mahajan



Placental tissue
Image credit: Prof Sumeet Mahajan. Placental tissue

Transforming IVF outcomes

The inability to conceive is unfortunately quite common and even though IVF has been used for more than 40 years to assist couples in getting pregnant, only around 26 per cent of cycles are successful.

It is known that the more common causes of failure are due to embryos having the wrong number of chromosomes or embryos that that are not metabolising at the correct rate. But this is difficult to know when the embryo is in incubation, before it is returned to the woman’s womb.

An interdisciplinary team of Southampton scientists are developing a new bench-top embryo imaging device that brings together coherent Raman microscopy (CRM) and two-photon fluorescence (TPF), which will illuminate the embryo by a plane of light from the side, instead of the conventional focussed laser spot. This will be quicker and far less damaging than the conventional method and will give embryologists a wealth of information about the embryo. They will then only transfer the best embryos to the woman, increasing greatly the chances of success and reducing the suffering and financial difficulties of repeated failures to conceive that are currently experienced by IVF couples.

Contacts: Prof Sumeet MahajanProf Ying Cheong, Dr Simon Lane

The root and soil interface

We rely on soil to support the crops on which we depend. Moreover, we also rely on soil to keep risk of flooding to a minimum and to contain carbon instead of releasing it into the atmosphere.

To improve and sustain our agriculture, it is vital to understand the interplay between soil and plant structures and how they relate to the physical and chemical dynamics of nutrient and water around roots.

Using the latest imaging techniques and modelling approaches our biological scientists are examining the varied and complex ways in which plants and soil interact to enhance our understanding of plant breeding and soil management in a changing climate. 

We are using techniques such as structural imaging, spatially explicit chemical mapping, soil solution sampling and image-based mathematical modelling, to explain:

  • how the soil around the root influences the soil ecosystems at multiple scales
  • what influences plant nutrient uptake
  • how mucilage (a compound that comes out of the root) effects the soil and surrounding ecosystems

Our teams will be able to use this information to help predict how climate change, different soil management strategies and plant breeding will influence soil fertility.

Contacts: Prof Tiina Roose


Image credit: Professor Tiina Roose
Image credit: Professor Tiina Roose

Respiratory at Southampton

Find out more about our research in major lung conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung fibrosis and acute and chronic infections.

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