Research-business partnership creates unique image system

An illustration of a nanotube. It looks like a long tunnel formed by a series of linked silver balls. There is a point of light at the far end of the tube.

Research-business partnership creates unique image system

Merging science with entrepreneurship, U de M researchers help Montréal startup get high-powered microscope to market
February 24, 2015

Richard Martel and his team at the Université de Montréal analyze the chemical and physical properties of nanomaterials and develop new ones for applications in electronics. In 2006, they partnered with a local startup, Photon etc., to produce a powerful nanotube characterization system that led to the development of a new microscope that would meet their imaging needs. Since the first prototype was launched in 2012, Photon etc., a company that employs 25 people in Montréal, has opened up a new market for its image systems.

After the successes of their first collaboration, Martel wanted to get a closer look at graphene — a thin layer of carbon atoms that is considered the strongest compound and lightest material known — and carbon nanotube films for potential applications. But he was limited to technology that could only reconstruct a sample image one pixel at a time. So in his lab, funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Martel and his team validated and adapted Photon etc.’s technology — originally developed for telescopes — to create a powerful and ultrafast microscope that could analyze an entire sample in only 30 minutes.

The product, RIMA™ NANO, is the most efficient Raman imaging system on the market for large sample characterization. The state-of-the art tool uses the Raman signal, a faint molecular signature, to image samples such as graphene and carbon nanotubes. This type of imaging allows researchers to better identify materials, characterize their unique properties and understand their behaviour under various conditions. The applications for these materials include use in smart phones, electronic paper, chemical sensors and soon biological probes — a potential leap forward in diagnostic technologies.

The collaboration between Photon etc. and Martel’s team continues to produce benefits. Since Raman signals are very weak, Martel recently developed carbon nanotubes colored with dyes that can fix themselves onto biological entities, such as cells, to amplify their Raman signal and make them more easily detectable. Photon etc. is now working with the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique to commercialize these nanotubes for use in the biomedical field.