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Apr 27, 2021

Interview: Investing in Talent, Sponsored Postgrad, Kilian Diendorfer

- By Jacqueline Wheeler

Kilian Diendorfer: Sponsored Postgraduate, Photon Counting X-ray Imaging Study, TUM, Munich

We are delighted to be sponsoring TUM (The Technical University of Munich) postgraduate Kilian Diendorfer. Kilian is working on an image processing study for the development of one of our new detectors in collaboration with a leading manufacturer. He took some time away from the lab to tell us about his experiences so far…

Jacqueline Wheeler, Direct Conversion: It’s good to meet you on Zoom, Kilian, but I see you’re not in the University?

Kilian Diendorfer: No, I was due to start on the project at TUM in February but Covid has meant I’ve been working from home since the start of March.

JW: Let’s start by talking about your academic journey so far. Where are you from and what did you study for your degree?

KD: I’m from Passau, Bavaria, and I studied Physics at the University of Regensburg, with a year as an Erasmus student at Trinity College, Dublin.

JW: What was your next step?

KD: At Regensburg, as part of my BSc, I took a module in medical physics, which I found very interesting and, with a little further research, I saw that TUM had a large department dedicated to this field. I focused on materials research for my undergraduate thesis, and worked with Cadmium Telluride, which is, of course, the material used in photon counting detectors.

JW: And how did that initial interest take you towards biomedical science?

KD: My master’s is in Applied and Engineering Physics at TUM. The title doesn’t include the word “biomedical” but it is a very flexible master’s, which offers an extremely broad range of subject options including those in that field.

JW: Had you heard about photon counting before?

KD: When I wrote up my BSc, I explored some of the uses of  Cadmium Telluride and that was when I came across photon counting. Also, the lectures I took in biomedical physics brought me into contact with dual energy modalities and spectral imaging.

JW: How did you find out about the Direct Conversion sponsored position?

KD: I always keep an eye on the list of opportunities provided by the University and I saw a few references to roles under the banner of spectral photon counting detectors, an area I had become very interested in. I was advised to speak to Professor Dr Franz Pfeiffer (Chair of Applied Biophysics, TUM), and he told me about this collaboration with Direct Conversion and another company that makes dental X-ray systems. I think before, when I was doing my BSc, I felt the subject matter was very academic, and so I wanted the experience of seeing science applied in the real world.  Professor Pfeiffer interviewed me and recommended me to Direct Conversion. I was then interviewed by Tuomas Pantsar (Product Manager and IPR Manager) and accepted for the research role.

JW: What were your expectations of this opportunity?

KD: I was looking forward to the teamwork, the experience of collaborating on a real – world project with a group of experts, rather than working alone. I wanted to learn more about spectral imaging because I had really enjoyed the course on that topic that I followed at TUM. And obviously, I wanted to improve my programming skills.

JW: Hopefully, with vaccinations on the increase, you’ll be in the University soon. But what has your first couple of months been like?

KD: Well, from the start, Tuomas Pantsar had created a plan for the project with dates to work towards and goals. For example, we are aiming to achieve some images for an event later in the year. Even though it is constantly adapted, this plan is very important. I also have a mentor at the University, Thorsten Sellerer, who previously worked on the denoising algorithms that I am using now. I can turn to Thorsten whenever I have a question and he also has a lot of experience with photon counting detectors.

JW: What is the focus of your work at the moment?

KD: I am involved in the whole process of optimising the X-ray images. I work on the calibration and then, from two energy channels, we acquire two images of the different materials that are X-rayed, by the decomposition method, which is the advantage of this type of detector. So, this could be an image of soft tissue and an image of bone. I work on these two decomposed images to get rid of the noise, as far as is possible, using algorithms.

JW: And how do you report in to the wider team?

KD: Every week, we have a team meeting. I present a powerpoint and the team discuss what I am doing and everyone looks at my progress and results. This discussion decides the next steps. The level of regular organisation is very different from a standard master’s experience and I feel the discipline of this weekly review is a definite benefit from my perspective.

JW: What’s it like to work with people who have such high levels of expertise?

KD: Well, it’s really fantastic because people like Professor Pfeiffer have years of accumulated expertise and Tuomas Pantsar, of course, is extremely knowledgeable. They pick apart every slide I present and I make a lot of notes because the feedback is so thorough. I try to absorb as much as I can from these meetings. I learn so much from listening.

JW: What has been your biggest challenge so far?

KD: Definitely the fact that I need to work from home because of Covid. Had I been at the University, I would have direct access to the people onsite and I’d be able to get minor questions answered quickly because you can ask someone in person. At the moment, if I have a query, I need to write an email or set up a Zoom meeting.

JW: How do you hope this experience will benefit you going forward?

KD: I hope this will give me the skills to work better in a commercial environment in the future. I would like to work in the biomedical field and material inspection is something I find very interesting. Also, I think the handling of all the programming tools that comes with a project like this is extremely useful – learning something by doing.

JW: Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us Kilian. Good luck with the project and we look forward to catching up with you at the end of the year!