What discoveries will be made by TSU biophotonics scientists

Scientists have long been searching for a “new Earth” in space. One of the objects to which their attention is riveted is Titan, a satellite of Saturn. Like the Earth, it has a dense atmosphere and weather cycles (although methane-ethane rivers and lakes are on the surface), but it has methane clouds instead of clouds of water vapor.

The environments of such planets are poorly studied, and various scientific groups are now engaged in modeling them. For example, France has a long-term research program on the atmosphere of Titan. In 2007, Yulia Kalugina, a graduate of the TSU Faculty of Physics, went there, and other Tomsk physicists have also joined this program. Since then TSU has been actively developing this area.

- One of the tools for studying such environments is quantum chemistry, which calculates the properties of molecules necessary for modeling any mediums, including alien ones, formed by the molecules. Yulia Kalugina was given the task of mastering nonempirical methods of quantum chemistry.

Almost simultaneously, a second graduate student, Rashid Valiev, went to the University of Helsinki, where he was able to master, develop, and apply methods of quantum chemistry to studying the photophysics and magnetically-induced properties of complex organic and organometallic molecular compounds, - says Victor Cherepanov, Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, head of the Department of Optics and Spectroscopy at the TSU Faculty of Physics.

This was a logical continuation of the long-established vector of the Siberian Physics and Technology Institute of Tomsk State University. In the Department of Photonics of Molecules, the group of George Mayer and Victor Artyukhov had previously developed methods of semi-empirical quantum chemistry for calculating the photophysical processes of organic molecules to create active laser media and photochemical processes.

Around the same time that graduate students mastered new methods of quantum chemistry abroad, a supercomputer arrived at TSU, and scientists had at their disposal powerful computing resources and modern quantum-chemical software packages.

In addition, the Laboratory of Biophotonics under the guidance of Yury Kistenev has come into existence. The laboratory studies methods for visualizing biological tissues and spectral methods for diagnosing diseases (for example, from the spectra of exhaled air and fumes from the skin). It has created unique methods for mathematically processing images of the measurements and spectra of molecules of biological objects.

- Given all these factors - the development of visualization methods and quantum chemistry, access to computational resources, the presence in Tomsk of schools of the photonics of molecules, and molecular spectroscopy, we decided to open a biophotonics training module at the Faculty of Physics. Market research showed that biophotonics specialists are now in great demand, their salaries are on the upper bar, and the demand for them is growing rapidly, - says Viktor Cherepanov.

The master's program Biophotonics, opened in 2017, was the first English-language program in Russia in this area. In 2019, four graduates received diplomas. Three of them entered the graduate school of the TSU Faculty of Physics, and one went to continue research in Saint Petersburg.

The first task of biophotonics, according to Viktor Cherepanov, is the diagnosis of dangerous diseases in the early stages:

- When a cell has just organized (for example, a cancer cell), it is necessary to detect it by physical methods (we are more interested in optical or spectral methods as the most sensitive, although there are others) and take measurements. Now, this often happens too late, when the process is no longer possible to stop.

He explains that now their team is solving two aspects of this problem. One is is visualization - you need to see what is happening in the body.

The other is that, using the methods of spectroscopy, including using quantum chemistry, it is possible to study the molecular composition and from this point of view to understand how to act, - says Viktor Cherepanov.

He emphasizes: now one of the most promising areas is not just biophysics, but brain biophysics.

If we can get visual information from the deep layers of the brain, we will understand what happens at the molecular level during the development of these diseases, then I hope we will be able to approach treatment methods with physicians, - the scientist concludes.