Imaging the health of our planet

From the discovery of DNA to the identification of water on Mars, lab-based spectroscopy is fundamental to understanding the chemical composition of matter. But what if you could apply spectroscopy not to small samples but on a planetary scale? Imagine a sensor small and powerful enough to be placed in a micro-satellite but which can assess the chemical state of an entire ecosystem with centimetre precision.

New laser-based methods combine the ability to rapidly survey large areas with the diagnostic capabilities of spectroscopy, revealing not only the types and extent of resources but the health of living reserves such as plants and forests. The technology sets the stage for remote monitoring that will transform agriculture and land management, and support government and humanitarian efforts to manage and conserve resources across the globe.

I'm curious about..."whether precision agriculture could be a service accessible to everyone on the planet"Gabrielle Thomas


Dr Gabrielle Thomas is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Photonics Group of the Department of Physics. She completed a PhD in Laser Physics at Imperial in 2011 and spent a year post-PhD on secondment at a laser development company. She was awarded a Doctoral Prize Fellowship at Imperial in 2012 and is currently Work Package Leader for a European Space Agency project, developing next-generation laser sources for remote sensing. In 2016, Gabrielle was nominated as a World Economic Forum Young Scientist.


Gabrielle's research aims to develop beyond-state-of-the-art laser sources that revolutionise a broad range of applications, including:

  • Remote sensing of clouds, aerosols and pollutants in the atmosphere;
  • Monitoring vegetation health and resource management;
  • Biomedical imaging and spectroscopy.

Foresight and futures work

World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2016
See further: The future of imaging with Imperial College London
Next-generation laser sources @ HPC Summer School

Profile Credits

Kit Huckvale