Tuan Vo-Dinh to Lead Duke’s Fitzpatrick Institute for Photonics

Tuan Vo-DinhDURHAM, N.C. -- Tuan Vo-Dinh, a pioneer in the field of photonics at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has joined the biomedical engineering department at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering, where he will serve as director of the Fitzpatrick Institute for Photonics.

Vo-Dinh said he plans to establish Duke as a national “center of gravity” for photonics research by tapping into the breadth of faculty expertise and facilities at the Pratt School, as well as Duke’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences and Medical Center. Photonics is the science of light-matter interactions.

“Photonics has been at the heart of the information technology revolution, and it can have similar impact in many critical areas such as medicine at the point-of-care, molecular manufacturing, national defense and global health,” Vo-Dinh said. “Optical technology will lead to tools that can provide real-time, non-invasive diagnostics. This could change the course of medicine in diagnosing early stages of disease because no tissue has to be removed and the diagnosis is made instantly.”

Vo-Dinh said he envisions a range of rugged, low-cost miniaturized tools to meet the needs of health care providers working in the field under adverse environmental conditions. Such technology could include optical nanosensors capable of detecting molecular changes at the cellular level; optical biochip technology to make routine lab tests portable and cost effective; or quantum optics to make personalized medical information transmission safe and secure.

He plans to build on the Fitzpatrick Institute’s established strengths of its faculty in biophotonics, nano/microsystems, optical materials and quantum information technology, and intends to further extend research programs to new areas such as nanophotonics. One of the institute’s goals is to emphasize translational research activities that put technology in the service of society.

George Truskey, chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, called Vo-Dinh a leader in the emerging area of nanobiotechnology. “He will be able to build on the work of the previous director of the photonics center, David Brady, and create new interactions with Pratt’s biomedical engineering department and our Bioengineering Initiative,” Truskey said.

Vo-Dinh earned a Ph.D. in biophysical chemistry from the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) in Zurich, Switzerland. He joined Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, Tenn., in 1977 as a staff research scientist and ultimately became a corporate fellow, one of the highest honors for distinguished scientists at ORNL, in 1994. He became director of the Center for Advanced Biomedical Photonics at ORNL in 2003. Vo-Dinh has held adjunct faculty positions at a number of universities.

Vo-Dinh has developed a range of instruments and devices aimed at advancing scientific inquiry and detecting chemical exposure and disease. While at ORNL, Vo-Dinh won seven R&D 100 Awards for his inventions. They ranged from a passive dosimeter capable of detecting a person’s exposure to toxic organic chemicals to the Multi-functional Biochip, which allows simultaneous detection of several diseases.

Vo-Dinh holds more than 30 patents and his inventions are being used in environmental, biological and medical applications. He won the Gold Medal Spectroscopy Award from the Society for Applied Spectroscopy in 1988 and was awarded the U.S. Department of Energy BER-50 Award for distinguished service to a healthy citizenry in 1997. He was also awarded the International Hall of Fame Award in Advanced Technology from the Inventor Clubs of America in 1992.

“I strongly believe in science and technology for a purpose,” said Vo-Dinh, who has published more than 330 peer-reviewed papers. “The most exciting times of my career have been when I was working in interdisciplinary groups where the breakthroughs achieved by these research teams extend beyond the realm of traditional individual disciplines, and that is why this position at Duke appealed to me. Duke offers a tremendous platform of expertise to develop next-generation photonics technologies at the nexus of the nano-bio-info-opto convergence that could trigger the next technology revolution.”

“We are very fortunate to have Tuan joins us at Duke,” said Pratt Dean Kristina Johnson. “He cares very deeply about people and in making a difference. He will help us focus on creating technologies that address some of the big problems in the world.”