As a child, Fatima Toor was aware of the environmental threats facing the world. The magazines she read discussed the permeation of pollution on the planet and its impact on health. That curiosity and concern guided Toor as she advanced through school and has continued to influence her professional career as a researcher and scholar.

“I’ve always been very interested in developing technology that would better the environment and health,” said Toor, a University of Iowa (UI) associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and the Lowell Battershell Chair in Laser Engineering. “All of these technologies I am developing have a place in medicine and environmental monitoring.”

While seeking solutions to these grand challenges continues to drive her, expertise in photonics, or the study of light, is Toor’s instrument. Toor designs photonic devices that detect, generate, or manipulate light.

This manifests in a diverse portfolio of studies: infrared sensors to help farmers apply fertilizer more efficiently, the use of light to treat sarcoma, a rare and deadly form of cancer, and integration of photonic and electronic materials to improve optoelectronic devices, such as high-performance computers, sensors, and photovoltaic cells.

Collaboration is fundamental to Toor, who joined the College of Engineering in 2014. She holds an appointment as an associate professor of physics and astronomy and is an associate member of the UI Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center - Experimental Therapeutics team.

Toor partners with the Carver College of Medicine on a study using infrared lasers that can preferentially ablate tumorous tissues while avoiding healthy tissue. This could lead to less-invasive surgical tumor ablation, resulting in faster recovery times and fewer side effects.

“This research effort allows us to be very targeted in the treatment of solid tumors as well as other pathological conditions, such as plaque in veins that can lead to stroke,” Toor said. “This is innovative, and that is what makes it so exciting. It is really going to impact patient care.” Toor has emerged as a leader in her field and on campus, as well as a valued mentor to students.

“Without her insightful eye over my work and her dedication to the research field, I would not have the dedication and appreciation towards conducting research that I have today,” said Jacob Sindt, a former research assistant in Toor’s lab who earned an electrical engineering degree in 2023.

Along with colleague John Prineas, a UI professor of physics and astronomy, Toor was named the 2022 Iowa Innovator of Year by the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center for a mid-infrared semiconductor optoelectronics startup. Also in 2022, Toor was announced as a senior member of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, and was appointed chair of the UI Faculty Senate Research Council.

“Engineers can innovate in a way that can change the world,” Toor said. “You can be part of inventing something that has never been thought of and can make a positive difference in our daily lives.”


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