2016 SPIE Gold Medal

Paras Prasad takes "Fantastic Voyage" to SPIE award.

01 July 2016
Karen Thomas

In the 1966 science fiction film, “Fantastic Voyage,” a crew of scientists and their submarine are shrunk to microscopic size and injected into the bloodstream of an injured scientist in order to perform microlaser brain surgery from inside the body.

In 2002, SPIE Fellow Paras N. Prasad and his team at the University at Buffalo (UB) (USA) developed Nanoclinic, a silica nanoshell containing various diagnostic and therapeutic agents. This multilevel nanoparticle contains imaging and sensing probes capable of conducting cellular, tissue-level, and whole-body imaging. It can also house a therapeutic payload, enabling doctors to release drugs inside a patient’s body and monitor the effectiveness of the treatment in real time. Prasad likens this method to the fictional technology in the 1966 film.

Artist’s rendering in background shows an onion-like nanoparticle with specially crafted layers to efficiently convert nearinfrared light to higher-energy blue and UV light.
Illustration: Kaiheng Wei, Photo: Douglas Levere

“Nanoclinic is an excellent example of how yesterday’s fiction transforms into today’s reality,” Prasad said. “The nanoshell performs a similar function as the microsubmarine and the scientists.”

For this and numerous other pioneering contributions to nonlinear optics, nanophotonics, biophotonics, and their application to nanomedicine, Prasad is the 2016 recipient of the SPIE Gold Medal. The award also recognizes Prasad’s more than three decades of outstanding service to SPIE.

Prasad is a Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Physics, Medicine, and Electrical Engineering, the highest rank in the State University of New York system. He also holds the Samuel P. Capen chair of chemistry and is the founder and director of the multidisciplinary Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics (ILPB), both at UB. Established in 1999, the ILPB brings together a multidisciplinary faculty from medicine, engineering, physics, and chemistry to focus on research and development involving photonics.

Prasad, who made the Thomson Reuters “Highly Cited Researchers” list for 2014, has published more than 750 scientific and technical papers and coauthored Introduction to Nonlinear Optical Effects in Molecules and Polymers (1991) with David J. Williams.

Prasad’s books, Introduction to Biophotonics (2003), Nanophotonics (2004), and Introduction to Nanomedicine and Nanobioengineering (2012), are considered essential reading in the fields of organic nonlinear optics.

“Paras was an early leader in biophotonics and nanomedicine, long before either of these fields was well known,” said Mark Swihart, UB professor of chemical and biological engineering. “Introduction to Biophotonics has helped to shape the development of this rapidly growing field over the past decade.”


In 2003, Laurent Levy, one of Prasad’s post-doctoral students, created the company Nanobiotix using the patented Nanoclinic technology licensed from UB. Based in Paris, Nanobiotix is currently developing NanoXray, nanoparticles that interact with x-rays and maximize the effect of radiotherapy within tumor cells.

In 2015, Prasad received UB’s inaugural Innovation Impact Award for developing technologies in nanomedicine, including those that formed the basis for Nanobiotix.

“Professor Prasad’s discoveries in nanomedicine have great potential and could lead to breakthroughs in terms of detecting, diagnosing and treating various forms of cancer,” said Venu Govindaraju, vice president for research and economic development at UB. “His work also demonstrates how university researchers can drive innovation and economic development within our region and around the world.”

Prasad was an early pioneer in the field of light-based nanomedicine, which involves using tiny, light-activated particles for diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment of disease. His interest in light began at an early age.

As a young boy growing up in Sitamarhi, Bihar (India), Prasad was fascinated by colors and light in nature. He describes himself as being “a kid who was a dreamer with a big imagination.” His interest in natural science led to an interest in photonics, as he wanted to learn more about light’s effect on matter and its role in nature.

While conducting research in light-matter interactions for his PhD at University of Pennsylvania (USA), Prasad was inspired by biophotonics in nature — how photonics plays a significant role in biosynthesis and how light action can be used in curing diseases.

“I also saw the emerging important role played by lasers and nanotechnology,” Prasad said. “Nanotechnology had produced excellent emitters and sensors. Thus, I proceeded with the integration of photonics with nanotechnology and biotechnology, which could have a major impact in the field of nanomedicine.”

“I believe that biophotonics and nanobiophotonics will play a vital and greatly expanded role in the development of new diagnostics and light-based therapies,” he added. “These technologies can have a major impact on a broad range of health-care issues.”


“When we first starting working on the integration of photonics and nanotechnology many years ago, it was all very new,” Prasad said. “We had only ideas and dreams about where this technology could take us, and what types of problems it could help solve. We pursued our experiments with vigor, and it’s satisfying to see how far the field has come.”

Prasad’s research is currently expanding to brain diagnostics and therapy. His team has extended the Nanoclinic technology with the creation of an onion-like photonic nanoparticle called an optical nanotransformer. The particle is designed in layers that work to convert invisible near-infrared light to higher-energy blue and UV light with record efficiency. This breakthrough could allow physicians to assess the cognitive state and diagnose and treat brain dysfunction or disease.

PHOTO OF Paras PrasadAn SPIE member for more than 30 years, Prasad has developed and taught courses for SPIE in nonlinear optics, nanophotonics, biophotonics, and nanomedicine. Prasad has chaired the nano/biophotonics track at BiOS (Photonics West) and presented numerous plenary, keynote, and invited lectures at SPIE conferences.

“SPIE has been tremendous in recognizing the timeliness of my courses and the valuable roles they have played in introducing emerging fields to photonics researchers worldwide,” Prasad said. Participants often follow up after courses, asking for suggestions, as they seek to employ what they learned in their own research and development. “It has been a truly rewarding experience,” he said.

Prasad, who received the UB President’s Medal in May, will receive the SPIE Gold Medal in August during the awards banquet at SPIE Optics + Photonics in San Diego.

“The SPIE Gold Medal is a prestigious international honor and a much-deserved recognition for Dr. Prasad, who has made profound contributions to the fields of optics and photonics over many years,” said UB President Satish K. Tripathi.

In shaping the fields of nanophotonics, nanomedicine, and biophotonics, Prasad helped open up a critical new frontier in science and technology. “These seminal contributions have life-changing implications, from cancer treatment and drug delivery to imaging and information storage,” Tripathi said.


For nearly six decades, SPIE has presented annual awards to recognize significant achievements and contributions in advancing the science of light.

Look for other stories about award recipients for 2016 in this issue and the October edition of SPIE Professional.

Nominations for the 2017 SPIE awards were due 1 June and will be announced in January 2017 or earlier.

More information: spie.org/awards.

–Karen Thomas is an editor at SPIE.

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