The Shifting Tools Lansdcape


We had a critical look at VC funding earlier in the year, and revealed that the whole ‘nano’ sector has yet to excite VCs – which is hardly surprising as much of the best work is still somewhat early and not at the stage where reliable, repeatable and cost effective manufacturing is possible.

The exception is of course the tools sector, where every new nanoscience centre that opens (for example the new Centre for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne) needs to be stocked with analytical equipment.

It’s a sector I have been working in since 1986 when I joined VG Ionex, at the time a major producer of surface analysis equipment before moving on to running a lab at the European Space Agency. These days we have a growing number of clients both large and small who use Cientifica to help them predict the tools that science and industry will require in the future.

One of the areas that is of ever increasing importance is the ability to detect and monitor nanoparticles in real time, and in liquid, something that just is not possible with a normal tool such as an electron microscope. While nanomaterials are relatively easy to produce these days, dispersing them and keeping them dispersed is a trickier issue, as is monitoring what they get up to once dispersed.

One company addressing this issue is Nanosight (I should disclose that I am a co founder) who just raised a further £250,000 and recently released a new isntrument that allows real time sizing and counting of nanoparticles in suspension down to 10nm.

As we continue with the convergence of nano, bio and IT, and the shift from looking at hard crystalline materials such as semiconductors to particles and systems in liquid media (which is after all how nature works) we will see an increasing demand for new tools and techniques to replace those which we currnently use, almost all of which were developed for the semiconductor industry.

While a number of the companies we work with are well aware of what shifts are happening, and are already taking steps to deal with this, the next few years will see others being left high and dry.

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