Section: Research Program

Research Program

The research activity of our team is dedicated to the design, analysis and implementation of efficient numerical methods to solve inverse and shape/topological optimization problems in connection with wave imaging, structural design, non-destructive testing and medical imaging modalities. We are particularly interested in the development of fast methods that are suited for real-time applications and/or large scale problems. These goals require to work on both the physical and the mathematical models involved and indeed a solid expertise in related numerical algorithms.

This section intends to give a general overview of our research interests and themes. We choose to present them through the specific academic example of inverse scattering problems (from inhomogeneities), which is representative of foreseen developments on both inversion and (topological) optimization methods. The practical problem would be to identify an inclusion from measurements of diffracted waves that result from the interaction of the sought inclusion with some (incident) waves sent into the probed medium. Typical applications include biomedical imaging where using micro-waves one would like to probe the presence of pathological cells, or imaging of urban infrastructures where using ground penetrating radars (GPR) one is interested in finding the location of buried facilities such as pipelines or waste deposits. This kind of applications requires in particular fast and reliable algorithms.

By “imaging” we shall refer to the inverse problem where the concern is only the location and the shape of the inclusion, while “identification” may also indicate getting informations on the inclusion physical parameters.

Both problems (imaging and identification) are non linear and ill-posed (lack of stability with respect to measurements errors if some careful constrains are not added). Moreover, the unique determination of the geometry or the coefficients is not guaranteed in general if sufficient measurements are not available. As an example, in the case of anisotropic inclusions, one can show that an appropriate set of data uniquely determine the geometry but not the material properties.

These theoretical considerations (uniqueness, stability) are not only important in understanding the mathematical properties of the inverse problem, but also guide the choice of appropriate numerical strategies (which information can be stably reconstructed) and also the design of appropriate regularization techniques. Moreover, uniqueness proofs are in general constructive proofs, i.e. they implicitly contain a numerical algorithm to solve the inverse problem, hence their importance for practical applications. The sampling methods introduced below are one example of such algorithms.

A large part of our research activity is dedicated to numerical methods applied to the first type of inverse problems, where only the geometrical information is sought. In its general setting the inverse problem is very challenging and no method can provide a universal satisfactory solution to it (regarding the balance cost-precision-stability). This is why in the majority of the practically employed algorithms, some simplification of the underlying mathematical model is used, according to the specific configuration of the imaging experiment. The most popular ones are geometric optics (the Kirchhoff approximation) for high frequencies and weak scattering (the Born approximation) for small contrasts or small obstacles. They actually give full satisfaction for a wide range of applications as attested by the large success of existing imaging devices (radar, sonar, ultrasound, X-ray tomography, etc.), that rely on one of these approximations.

Generally speaking, the used simplifications result in a linearization of the inverse problem and therefore are usually valid only if the latter is weakly non-linear. The development of these simplified models and the improvement of their efficiency is still a very active research area. With that perspective we are particularly interested in deriving and studying higher order asymptotic models associated with small geometrical parameters such as: small obstacles, thin coatings, wires, periodic media, .... Higher order models usually introduce some non linearity in the inverse problem, but are in principle easier to handle from the numerical point of view than in the case of the exact model.

A larger part of our research activity is dedicated to algorithms that avoid the use of such approximations and that are efficient where classical approaches fail: i.e. roughly speaking when the non linearity of the inverse problem is sufficiently strong. This type of configuration is motivated by the applications mentioned below, and occurs as soon as the geometry of the unknown media generates non negligible multiple scattering effects (multiply-connected and closely spaces obstacles) or when the used frequency is in the so-called resonant region (wave-length comparable to the size of the sought medium). It is therefore much more difficult to deal with and requires new approaches. Our ideas to tackle this problem will be motivated and inspired by recent advances in shape and topological optimization methods and also the introduction of novel classes of imaging algorithms, so-called sampling methods.

The sampling methods are fast imaging solvers adapted to multi-static data (multiple receiver-transmitter pairs) at a fixed frequency. Even if they do not use any linearization the forward model, they rely on computing the solutions to a set of linear problems of small size, that can be performed in a completely parallel procedure. Our team has already a solid expertise in these methods applied to electromagnetic 3-D problems. The success of such approaches was their ability to provide a relatively quick algorithm for solving 3-D problems without any need for a priori knowledge on the physical parameters of the targets. These algorithms solve only the imaging problem, in the sense that only the geometrical information is provided.

Despite the large efforts already spent in the development of this type of methods, either from the algorithmic point of view or the theoretical one, numerous questions are still open. These attractive new algorithms also suffer from the lack of experimental validations, due to their relatively recent introduction. We also would like to invest on this side by developing collaborations with engineering research groups that have experimental facilities. From the practical point of view, the most potential limitation of sampling methods would be the need of a large amount of data to achieve a reasonable accuracy. On the other hand, optimization methods do not suffer from this constrain but they require good initial guess to ensure convergence and reduce the number of iterations. Therefore it seems natural to try to combine the two class of methods in order to calibrate the balance between cost and precision.

Among various shape optimization methods, the Level Set method seems to be particularly suited for such a coupling. First, because it shares similar mechanism as sampling methods: the geometry is captured as a level set of an “indicator function” computed on a cartesian grid. Second, because the two methods do not require any a priori knowledge on the topology of the sought geometry. Beyond the choice of a particular method, the main question would be to define in which way the coupling can be achieved. Obvious strategies consist in using one method to pre-process (initialization) or post-process (find the level set) the other. But one can also think of more elaborate ones, where for instance a sampling method can be used to optimize the choice of the incident wave at each iteration step.The latter point is closely related to the design of so called “focusing incident waves” (which are for instance the basis of applications of the time-reversal principle). In the frequency regime, these incident waves can be constructed from the eigenvalue decomposition of the data operator used by sampling methods. The theoretical and numerical investigations of these aspects are still not completely understood for electromagnetic or elastodynamic problems.

Other topological optimization methods, like the homogenization method or the topological gradient method, can also be used, each one provides particular advantages in specific configurations. It is evident that the development of these methods is very suited to inverse problems and provide substantial advantage compared to classical shape optimization methods based on boundary variation. Their applications to inverse problems has not been fully investigated. The efficiency of these optimization methods can also be increased for adequate asymptotic configurations. For instance small amplitude homogenization method can be used as an efficient relaxation method for the inverse problem in the presence of small contrasts. On the other hand, the topological gradient method has shown to perform well in localizing small inclusions with only one iteration.

A broader perspective would be the extension of the above mentioned techniques to time-dependent cases. Taking into account data in time domain is important for many practical applications, such as imaging in cluttered media, the design of absorbing coatings or also crash worthiness in the case of structural design.

For the identification problem, one would like to also have information on the physical properties of the targets. Of course optimization methods is a tool of choice for these problems. However, in some applications only a qualitative information is needed and obtaining it in a cheaper way can be performed using asymptotic theories combined with sampling methods. We also refer here to the use of so called transmission eigenvalues as qualitative indicators for non destructive testing of dielectrics.

We are also interested in parameter identification problems arising in diffusion-type problems. Our research here is mostly motivated by applications to the imaging of biological tissues with the technique of Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging (DMRI). Roughly speaking DMRI gives a measure of the average distance travelled by water molecules in a certain medium and can give useful information on cellular structure and structural change when the medium is biological tissue. In particular, we would like to infer from DMRI measurements changes in the cellular volume fraction occurring upon various physiological or pathological conditions as well as the average cell size in the case of tumor imaging. The main challenges here are 1) correctly model measured signals using diffusive-type time-dependent PDEs 2) numerically handle the complexity of the tissues 3) use the first two to identify physically relevant parameters from measurements. For the last point we are particularly interested in constructing reduced models of the multiple-compartment Bloch-Torrey partial differential equation using homogenization methods.