SPIE-Franz Hillenkamp Fellowship

One-year fellowship in biomedical optics

The SPIE-Franz Hillenkamp Postdoctoral Fellowship in Problem-Driven Biomedical Optics and Analytics provides an annual award of US $75,000 to translate new biomedical optics and biophotonics technologies to clinical practice for improving human health.

The 2025 application is open. Apply by 6 September 2024.  

Apply online

Recipients of the SPIE-Franz Hillenkamp Fellowship

About the Hillenkamp Fellowship

The fellowship honors Franz Hillenkamp's distinguished career as a researcher, teacher, and mentor who had an enormous international impact. A German scientist, he introduced the first medical laser applications laboratory and marked the genesis of translational research in biomedical optics in Europe in the 1970s.

Established in 2017, the fellowship is a partnership between the Hillenkamp family, SPIE, and multiple international biomedical laboratories.

Application requirements and eligibility

Young investigators with a PhD, MD, or equivalent degree are eligible to apply. There are no restrictions on geographical location; however, applicants and hosting labs must propose original research in biomedical optics that is expected to lead to new diagnostics and/or therapeutics in medicine and biology.

The application for the SPIE-Franz Hillenkamp Postdoctoral Fellowship comprises three distinct elements, each with their own requirements: Hosting Lab, Project, and Candidate. 


To be eligible as a Hosting Lab, the following requirements must be met: 

  1. An established contributor in the field of biomedical optics (capability and infrastructure).
  2. An institution of higher learning (university and medical school affiliations are needed). Government labs or nonprofit-incorporated labs are eligible if other criteria are met.
  3. Capable of high-level mentorship in both fundamental research and translation of technologies into medicine (number of publications, patents, collaborations with industry and spin-off creation over the last 10 years, faculty teaching in translational research education and training programs).
  4. Committed to giving access to the lab, research and translational sciences mentorship, commercialization expertise and immersion courses in translational research.
  5. Able to demonstrate capability to perform original and translational research in the field, leading to new diagnostics and/or therapeutics in medicine and biology, (ex: contributed to at least one discovery translated into clinical practice).
  6. The hosting lab must cover indirect costs according to the lab’s institution policy such as space, electricity, heating, telephone expenses, administrative salaries, etc.
  7. The $75,000 SPIE-Franz Hillenkamp Fellowship is to be awarded in full to the fellow and to be administered by the hosting lab. For the one-year duration of the fellowship, the funding is intended to cover the fellow’s salary and benefits (health insurance, dental insurance, life insurance, education assistance, retirement plan contributions, etc.). If remaining funding is available, it may be used for project-related expenses. The salary and benefits of the fellow must adhere to the lab’s institution policy.
  8. Must provide, to the Fellowship Committee, the project final report including summary of project expenses no later than two months after the end of the fellowship.
  9. A whitepaper is required for new and Participating Labs describing how the lab would fulfill the Hillenkamp Fellowship. Whitepaper must be a minimum of one page and must not exceed three pages.


Options for new Hosting Lab: 

Sustaining Lab a contribution of at least $20,000 must be made to support the Fellowship Fund. Sustaining Lab will be recognized from the time the contribution is processed (by SPIE) on spie.org and promotional materials as appropriate. 

Participating Lab no initial contribution is required and the lab will support a Fellow as the hosting lab in accordance with the above criteria. Participating Lab will be recognized on spie.org and promotional materials as appropriate for the year the lab is supporting an awarded Fellow.  


Download Hosting Lab Requirements (PDF)


The project must meet the following criteria:

  1. Relevance to the field of biomedical optics and analytics.
  2. Sufficient background to evaluate the scope and nature of the problem as well as the current standard of care, evidence of the need and multi stakeholder perspective.
  3. Potential patient and healthcare impact.
  4. Innovative aspects of the approach.
  5. Likelihood that achievement of experimental endpoints will lead to a potential collaboration with a commercial partner.
  6. Team expertise and motivation.
  7. Potential for the fellow to learn the importance of translating new discoveries to clinical practice, the language required to make the process effective and what it really takes (expertise, partnerships, time, money).


Research Component

Must include a detailed research plan developed jointly by the candidate and the research faculty mentor in science/engineering and/or medicine/biology. Research plan must be a minimum of three (3) pages and must not exceed five (5) pages.


Translational Sciences Component

Must include one (1) page training plan developed with the translational sciences mentor. The plan should NOT describe the project business plan, but how the fellow will be involved and learn about specific steps to be taken in order to translate new discoveries emerging from the project into new diagnostics or treatments for patients in need. May include actions such as: participating in courses and/or attending seminars and series focusing on translational research, working with clinicians, interacting with academic and/or commercial partners, participating in the writing and approval of animal experiments and/or human studies, applying for/or participating in translational research grants, and publishing a paper reporting on the work performed during the one-year SPIE-Franz Hillenkamp Fellowship, highlighting both the research and translational sciences components.


Download Project Requirements (PDF)



  1. Candidates must have a PhD, MD, or equivalent degree at the beginning of the Fellowship.
  2. Further advanced scientists and engineers interested in transitioning to biomedical research will also be considered.
  3. If awarded the Hillenkamp Postdoctoral Fellowship, the awardee must be a Member or become a Member of SPIE.


Application Requirements

Candidates must include the following:

  1. CV
  2. One (1)-page personal statement addressing how proposed research project and training as the SPIE-Franz Hillenkamp fellowship is important to career goals.
  3. One (1) external letter of recommendation not affiliated with the hosting lab.
  4. One (1) letter of support stating specific commitment to the project from the research and translational sciences faculty and collaborating mentors in the hosting lab.


Download Candidate Requirements (PDF)

Recent recipients

2024 Recipient Simon Mahler

Simon Mahler's postdoctoral research — conducted in conjunction with Changhuei Yang at Caltech’s Biophotonics Lab — will focus on designing a multi-channel device, using infrared laser speckle imaging, that non-invasively monitors cerebral blood flow in the human head across several locations simultaneously. Leveraging this technology could potentially advance certain medical applications, including the diagnosis of traumatic brain injuries such as concussions. Read the full press release about Mahler's work and the 2024 fellowship.

SPIE-Franz Hillenkamp Fellowship recipient Arutyun Bagramyan

2023 Recipient Arutyun Bagramyan

Arutyun Bagramyan focuses his postdoctoral research — conducted in conjunction with Principal Investigator Charles Lin at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine — on the development of a miniature oblique back-illumination microscope for real-time, non-invasive imaging of white blood cells in human microvasculature. Read the full press release.

2022 Recipient Ivan Kosik

Ivan Kosik's research, conducted with Professor Brian Wilson at the University of Toronto, develops a new form of transrectal photoacoustic tomography (TR-PAT) in combination with thermal enhancement using multifunctional porphyrin-lipid nanoparticles. The goal is to create a safe, effective photothermal therapy (PPT) treatment platform that eliminates the necessity for intraoperative MRI. Read the press release.

2021 Recipient Nitesh Katta

Nitesh Katta, who received his PhD in 2019 from the University of Texas at Austin, continues research on his project, "a cold laser wire (CLW) for true-lumen crossing of tortuous coronary arteries with calcified chronic total occlusions (CTOs)."  Read the press release.

2020 Recipient Fernando Zvietcovich

Fernando Zvietcovich, a PhD candidate at the University of Rochester, works on translating a novel biophotonics-based optical coherence elastography (OCE) method, developed and designed for the non-invasive quantification of corneal spatial biomechanical properties in 3D, into the in vivo clinical use for human ocular disease diagnostics and treatment monitoring. Read the press release.

2019 Recipients Jie Hui and Andreas Wartak

Dr. Jie Hui, of the Boston University Photonics Center, conducts research focused on a light-based approach to treat MRSA-caused diseases. Dr. Andreas Wartak of the Wellman Center for Photomedicine targets an earlier, cheaper, and less invasive diagnosis of eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE). Read the press release.

2018 Recipients Haley Marks and Jan Philip Kolb

Dr. Haley Marks of the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital received the inaugural fellowship is an SPIE Member and postdoctoral researcher at the Wellman Center. She was recognized for her work on a luminescent oxygen-sensing, drug-releasing bandage that provides quantitative visual feedback for clinical treatment guidance. Read the press release.

On behalf of the Hillenkamp Fellowship Committee and Thorlabs, SPIE presented a second sponsored award to Jan Philip Kolb of the Medical Laser Center Lübeck (Germany)for his work on fiber-based nanosecond two-photon microscopy (nsTPM) which can be translated to clinical applications, such as pathology and endoscopy. The project investigates new wavelengths and compares the results with conventional haemotoxylin and eosin (H&E) stained microscopy.

Support the fellowship

The fellowship program is founded by SPIE and the family and friends of Franz Hillenkamp, as well as four Founding Labs: the Wellman Center for Photomedicine and the Manstein Lab in the Cutaneous Biology Research Center, both at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston (USA), The Beckman Laser Institute (USA), and the Medical Laser Center Lübeck (Germany). 

Labs and organizations may further support the fellowship through partnership or industry sponsorship. Learn more.

Fellowship Committee and Review Committee

Fellowship Committee

Rox Anderson (Chair)

Gabriela Apiou (Co-Chair)

Jennifer Barton

Irving Bigio

Reginald Birngruber

Matthew Brenner

Ralf Brinkmann

Brad Ferguson

Jost Hillenkamp

Charles Lin

Dieter Manstein

Thomas Milner

John Parrish

Gary Tearney

The Fellowship Review Committee

Christoph Hitzenberger (Chair)

Anne-Laure Bulin

Linh Ha-Wissel

Jürgen Popp

Darren Roblyer

James Tunnell