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Durham University

Research & business

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Prof John Girkin, FInstP, FOSA

Professor in the Department of Physics

(email at


Following my undergraduate degree in Oxford and PhD at Southampton I worked for Photon Control an Opto-Mechanical company based in Cambridge designing the world’s first commercial diode pumped Nd:YAG laser. I then spent seven years at Keeler Ltd researching and designing ophthalmic instrumentation including a diode laser for retinal photocoagulation. In 1996 I moved to the newly founded Institute of Photonics at Strathclyde University to form, and lead, the applications team. While there I was one of the founders of the Centre for Biophotonics and the theme leader for the Physics and Life Sciences theme within SUPA (the Scottish Physics Alliance). I moved to Durham in January 2009 as part of the Biophysical Sciences initiative and from August 2011 I became Director of the BSI. I am a Fellow of the Institute of Physics and was elected a Fellow of the Optical Society of America in 2017.

New Book Publication

I have recently written a book, A Practical Guide to Optical Microscopy, which looks at all the current methods available to microscopists. It outlines the basic physics principles, provides guidelines on the practical use of microscopes and which method is best suited to a specific task. The book can be understood without a detailed knowledge of optics and is aimed at the general user of optical microscopy.

Research Interests

My research centres on the application and development of advanced photonics and optical technology to challenges within the life sciences. A strong focus of this has been in the application of adaptive optics, originally developed for astronomy, to deep optical sectioning microscopy, both confocal and multiphoton. The optical methods developed have been applied in a wide range of samples from brain through to novel methods of optically detecting early dental decay. Details can be found under the CFAI web pages. All of my research work is strongly multi-disciplinary and collaborative and is thus closely linked with the Biophysical Sciences Institute .

We have developed novel methods of imaging beating Zebrafish hearts using Single Plane Illumination microscopy supported by the British Heart Foundation (linked to Edinburgh University) and the EPSRC and some of the details can be found in a short podcast (Beating Hearts). More recently we have perfected the use of KillerRed (a genetically encoded fluorescent marker which when illuminated causes local cell death) in Zebrafish in vivo for the first time. This work entailed the use of opto-genetics and adaptive optics to ensure accurate targetting.

Research Groups

Centre for Materials Physics

Department of Biosciences

Department of Physics

Indicators of Esteem

  • 2019: Deputy Editor Optics Express:
  • 2018: UKRI Fellowship Panel Member:
  • 2017: Elected Fellow Optical Society of America:
  • 2017: NIH and DFG International Grant Panel Member (2017-):
  • 2016: External Examiner University of Central Lancashire (2016-):
  • 2016: Jeremiah Horrocks Public Lecture:
  • 2013: Associate Editor Optics Express (2013-2018): Editor for the highest ranked Optics Journal
  • 2013: External Examiner Cardiff University (2013-16): Biophotonics Masters Course
  • 2012: International Conference Organising Committee: I am on the international organising committees for several conferences including Photonics North and Photonics West (SPIE BIOS), Society of Experimental Biology and Photoptics
  • 2010: Editor Biosensors and Bioelectronics (2010-2017): Highest ranked International Journal on Biosensors

Selected Publications

Chapter in book

Conference Paper

Journal Article

Show all publications

Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Advanced Instrumentation: Optical Instruments for lifescience and medical diagnosis
  • Condensed Matter Physics: Optical Instruments for lifescience and medical diagnosis
  • Science: Education, industry & the community: Optical Instruments for lifescience and medical diagnosis


Selected Grants

  • 2017: Development of microfluidic technologies to study the behaviour of healthy and diseased red blood cells and their precursors (£13409.35 from )
  • 2015: Telescopic Windows: low vision scope to cloaks (£418041.28 from Epsrc)
  • 2014: Industrial CASE Award: Developing novel non-invasive tools for the diagnosis of menopausal atrophy and at the Point of Care (£22883.00 from Procter & Gamble)