CORDIS - EU research results

Unraveling the Physics of Light at Scale

Project description

We are beginning to see the light in fields from environmental science to biology

Photons are tiny quantum probes of the world around us. The ways in which these packets of light are reflected, refracted or absorbed by the materials in their paths can be used to identify the materials themselves. However, to 'filter' out all the limitless other things in the literal and metaphorical picture, we must know what these things are and how they modify light. This so-called inverse problem – working backward from an indirect measurement to a measurement of interest from the known relationship between the two – is quite complex yet vital to fields ranging from satellite imagery and climate science to microscopy of biological specimens. The EU-funded UNRAVEL project is developing computer graphics methodologies that integrate those hidden bridges between limitless parameters and light to enable scientists in virtually any field to analyse complex images and extract the parameters of interest.


Earth climate research crucially depends on measurements of the atmospheric distribution of CO2, which is largely obtained using satellites. But satellites cannot directly measure CO2—they capture photographs at different wavelengths that must be mathematically processed to obtain this information. Current methods for solving this inverse problem are unaware of many aspects of the images including topography, cloud shape, shadowing, etc. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has identified the resulting errors as the main cause of discrepancies between different climate sensitivity models.

This proposal in the area of computer graphics introduces methods for inverting the physics of light at unprecedented scales that will address these inaccuracies. However, the scope of our contribution extends far beyond climate modeling: it will have a revolutionary impact on all scientific disciplines that involve the analysis of images, including biology, computer vision, architecture, and many others.

In this project,

- we will establish the first framework for inverting light simulations with billions of parameters.

To demonstrate its generality, and to realize the impact of this framework, we will specialize it to three areas:

- we will develop the first invertible atmospheric optics simulator for earth climate monitoring that accounts for 3D structures, addressing severe inaccuracies of current methods.

- we will create an invertible virtual microscope that will open the door to fundamentally new reconstruction techniques in the area of biology.

- we will design architectural light simulations that are able to adapt buildings so that they make ideal use of naturally available daylight.

To achieve these goals, we must unravel the messy physics of light to either reveal or control the properties of visible and invisible objects. Our approach will solve this impossible-seeming problem at large scales with substantial impact across disciplines.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 496 955,00
1015 Lausanne

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Schweiz/Suisse/Svizzera Région lémanique Vaud
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 496 955,00

Beneficiaries (1)