MESA+ University of Twente
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Volume 4, 2015

When she was studying at Twente, Merel Leistikow did research on photonic crystals. Now, working for Philips, she investigates how she can use new imaging techniques to make things easier for surgeons. “I’m now doing something that’s easier to explain to my mother.”

It used to be that blocked coronary arteries meant a patient had to undergo a complex open heart surgery. The procedure was prone to complications and resulted in a very long recovery time. Now, heart surgeons operate on clogged coronary arteries by using tools they insert into the patient’s body at a spot in for instance the groin or wrist, making the procedure far less strenuous to the patient.

Surgeons without backaches
This procedure, known as minimally invasive surgery, does come with its own problem, one Philips would love to solve: surgeons are constantly monitoring the tools using X-rays, meaning they have to operate while wearing a heavy lead apron for hours on end. And that’s where Leistikow comes in. She is investigating if the procedure is possible with less X-radiation. Not only would this help surgeons avoid problems with their backs, but would also have patients be less exposed to radiation.

Matlab and screwdrivers
Is conducting research at a company all that different from doing it at a university? Leistikow: “Well, I’m still busy with Matlab or screwdrivers. The main difference, though, is that I have to consider whether a solution is economically viable, whether I can make a business case out of my findings.” Also, Leistikow believes working for Philips is more diverse than her work at the university. “For instance, I visit hospitals to discuss my findings with doctors and need to work together with Philips’ marketeers. What I love about my job is that we want to create something that makes a difference. It suits me.”

No ten-year plan
Leistikow has been working for Philips for four years now. She has not decided on returning to university at some point or taking up a general management position. “So far, I like it here. I don’t have a ten-year plan I follow. I just really love the content of my job, the technical component.”

NAME : Merel Leistikow (1983)

POSITION : Research Scientist at Philips

PREVIOUSLY : Leistikow studied applied physics at Twente. While an intern at Philips, she investigated ways to improve the lasers used in blu-ray players. After graduation, she conducted PhD research at the FOM institute AMOLF and at the University of Twente. In 2010, she received her PhD from professor Willem Vos (Complex Photonic Systems), for her research on spontaneous light emission in photonic crystals. Her popular-scientific paper on her PhD research received the Dutch Journal of Physics prize. Leistikow has been working at Philips Research ever since she received her PhD. Her work at Philips, too, is all about light, but this time her research is to result in better imaging in minimally invasive surgery.

MESA + ... “is a wonderful seed-bed for new ideas.”