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PhD student position in THz and sub millimeter wave imaging for surgical flap viability assessment

The THz and Millimeter wave Techniques group is in search of a PhD student for an interdisciplinary research program developing a hyperspectral, submillimeter wave imaging system for surgical flap viability assessment. The program teams engineers at Aalto University (Finland), Wright State University (USA) with clinical collaborators at the University of Helsinki (Finland), and UCLA (Los Angeles, California, USA). Novel reflector antenna design will be integrated with meta material impedance matching surfaces create technology that can generate high resolution, volumetrically resolved maps of tissue water content. These maps will be fed into and Bayesian belief networks and identify spatiotemporal features predictive of surgical flap failure.

Research background
Tissue flaps have become a life-saving reconstructive option for patients with breast cancer, head and neck cancer, soft tissue defects, and wounds. In many patients, surgical excisions cannot heal by themselves and, in these cases, surgeons must create a tissue flap and overlay this on the excision. A flap includes the harvested skin, muscle, soft tissue or bone, and their corresponding neurovascular supply. Despite high success rates, ~ 9-25% of skin flaps still require secondary surgical re-exploration due to microvascular complications that can lead to flap failure (i.e. tissue necrosis). Early and accurate assessment of flap viability – the most significant predictor of flap salvage outcome – is still an unmet clinical need. Blood perfusion assessment, part of the current standard for evaluating flaps, can only detect microcirculation complications 48-72hr following surgery, preventing early intervention. Post-surgery hourly surveillance, also part of the current standard, is qualitative with limited efficacy prior to 48-72hr. “Edema,” the immediate, rapid accumulation of tissue water content (TWC) following surgery, precedes microvascular changes associated with tissue perfusion, thus confounding immediate perfusion measurements performed by clinical inspection or adjunct methods. TWC variation could be a more useful diagnostic target for predicting the extent of flap viability earlier than what is used in current clinical practice if TWC contrast maps can be generated and interpreted. THz and submillimeter wave remote sensing technology is ideally suited to standoff detection of tissue water content.

Research position details
This PhD student position entails four key development areas: (1) development of submillimeter wave mirror and lens optics to rapidly scan a hyperspectral beam across a clinically relevant field of view with the associated beam scanning and data acquisition automation. (2) Development, simulation, and fabrication of metamaterial patches that vary the electric distribution within the tissue providing multiple observations of the tissue at different tissue depths. (3) A preclinical animal trial that collects significant spatially resolved tissue spectra of surgical flaps (4) Development, optimization, and evaluation of a Bayesian belief network to identify features and refine classifiers that delineate viable and nonviable tissue. These key research tasks leverage the areas of systems engineering, dielectric spectroscopy, metamaterials, and physical optics and are critical to the program success.

Research group
At Aalto University: This research position will be supported by the Millimeter Wave and THz Techniques research group at Aalto, which is led by Professor Zachary Taylor. Professor Taylor’s group pioneered the use of THz and submillimeter wave techniques at the University of California, Los Angeles as a joint program with the School of Medicine. More recently, Prof. Taylor’s group co-developed new techniques with researchers at Aalto University where he is a new faculty member.
Collaborators: This work is in collaboration with Prof. Olli Carpen at the University of Helsinki School of Medicine (Finland), Prof. Elliott Brown at Wright State University (USA), and Professor Dan Ruan at the UCLA School of Medicine (USA). The assembled interdisciplinary team combines capability in a host of interconnected specialties and fields and will provide the PhD student with high impact experience in medical engineering work.


  • Masters degree in electrical engineering, physics, or related topics is favorable
  • Comfortable with both theory and experiments. Experimental experience a plus.
  • Computational electromagnetics experience a plus
  • High level competency in MATLAB
  • Good command of English
  • Experience with electromagnetic simulation software is a plus

Outcomes and opportunities afforded by this research program

  • High level competence with the electromagnetic theory and simulation
  • High level competence in interdisciplinary lab work
  • Travel abroad to train in THz techniques
  • Eminently employable in microwave research or industrial settings
  • Eminently employable in medical imaging research or industrial settings
  • Exposure and networking with international collaborators

Salary and contract terms
The starting salary is approximately 2500 €/month, depending on experience and qualifications. The selected PhD student is expected to complete doctoral research and studies within four years in the Doctoral Programme in Electrical Engineering of Aalto University. As an employer, Aalto University provides excellent learning and development opportunities as well as occupational health care services, commuter ticket benefit and versatile exercise services by Unisport. Finland has a comprehensive social security system. Start time is negotiable but sooner is preferable.

Ready to apply?
Please send your application through the “Apply now!” link below and include the following attachments

  • Application cover letter
  • Course transcripts of Bachelor and Master degrees with grades
  • Curriculum Vitae (with the list of publications if you have)
  • Description of Master’s thesis project
  • References

Deadline for applications is January 31 but we will start reviewing candidates immediately.

More information
For additional information, please contact Professor Zachary Taylor, firstname.lastname@aalto.fi. For additional information on recruitment process, please contact HR Coordinator Annika Salmelin, firstname.lastname@aalto.fi.

About Finland
Aalto University is an international community, more than 40% of our academic faculty comes from outside Finland. Finland is a great place for living with or without family – it is a safe, politically stable and well organized Nordic society. Finland is consistently ranked high in quality of life and was just listed again as the happiest country in the world: http://worldhappiness.report/news/finland-again-is-the-happiest-country-in-the-world/. For more information about living in Finland: https://www.aalto.fi/services/about-finland

Apply now!

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