A University of Strathclyde spinout company has won a prestigious UK-wide award - more than 40 years after the firm was first established. Software and instrumentation manufacturing company HORIBA Jobin Yvon IBH Ltd has received a Business Innovation Award from the Institute of Physics (IOP) for the FLIMERA, a novel molecular movie camera with applications in medical research, disease diagnostics, screening, optically-guided surgery and tissue monitoring.
The camera is considerably faster than conventional scanning microscopes, enabling real-time video-rate recordings for the study of mobile samples, such as live cells and fluid biopsy for cancer screening.
The device detects the location and dynamics of molecules using their emissions of fluorescence. The IoP award citation described it as "a game-changing technology."
Each camera pixel simultaneously measures molecule timing and intensity. Bespoke software enables real-time video rate studies of the fundamental cellular processes critical to biology and healthcare.
The company was initially founded in 1977 as Strathclyde spinout IBH. It was acquired in 2003 by precision instruments manufacturer HORIBA and now leads the market in fluorescence spectroscopy.
The technology has been developed in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh.
Professor David Birch, of Strathclyde' Department of Physics, Co-founder of IBH and Director of Science and Technology with HORIBA, joined the team for the award at a ceremony at the Palace of Westminster. He said: "To date, the use of fluorescence lifetimes in spectroscopy and microscopy has been predominantly based on using a single detector and point-by-point measurements.
"Back in the 1990s, we established the principle of multiplexing lifetime measurements using up to 16 multiple detection channels in order to overcome these limitations and access more of a molecule's fluorescence fingerprint. But I could never have imagined back then the nearly 25,000 simultaneous fluorescence lifetime measurements obtained with the FLIMERA.
"Our products are very application driven and the FLIMERA will undoubtedly open-up new global markets for the Company across biology, healthcare and materials." Institute of Physics President Jonathan Flint said: "The IOP Business Awards recognise large and small companies that have built success on the creative application of physics. There are very few awards that do this.
"The application of physics has the potential to produce cutting-edge technologies, and to drive business innovation and growth. It also fuels significant positive societal and economic transformation, both locally and globally.
"Now, more than ever, we need continued investment to ensure a healthy supply of physicists in the UK and Ireland. These awards remind us of that, and of what can be achieved when our talent is encouraged, developed and rewarded."
HORIBA has made it possible to combine, in a single camera pixel, the detection of single photons with the ability to time photon arrival, through the use of a method known as time-correlated single-photon counting (TCSPC). Recent advances in technology have enabled the creation of very small pixel arrays, which mean that the FLIMERA can produce a large amount of data. HORIBA developed bespoke firmware and software which allow the display and recording of video rate - 30 frames per second - images.
TCSPC detects the arrival times of individual photons in response to a pulse of light, an important photon time-of-flight measurement. It can be used for range finding, and to determine how long molecules store optical energy before radiating it as fluorescence. This is known as the fluorescence lifetime. Typically nanoseconds it is a key indicator of the molecular nanoscale environment which underpins biology and ultimately healthcare.
Because of this, it can be used to probe molecular interactions that are significant for many biological sciences, such as cell and protein interactions, and material sciences, including solar cells.
The collaboration with Strathclyde has been funded by the Company and the QuantIC Quantum Technology Hub. This is one of four Hubs in the UK's National Quantum Technologies Programme and Strathclyde is the only university which is a partner in all of the hubs.