Imaging the health of our planet

Dr Gabrielle Thomas
Academic Visitor, Department of Physics

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”


Dr Gabrielle Thomas is a freelance scientist based in Berlin, currently working as a consultant for M Squared Lasers, and an academic visitor in the Photonics Group, Department of Physics at Imperial College.

She was recently awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship, to be undertaken in the Center for Laser Materials (sponsored by Dr Christian Kränkel) at the Leibniz Institute for Crystal Growth (IKZ) in Berlin. This project (ErMIR) involves the development of cascade erbium-doped lasers for remote sensing applications.


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.


Published in 2016