September 26, 2017

Distinguished photonics start-ups

					PHOTONICS Awards

Three start-ups have secured themselves PHOTONICS Awards from LASER World of PHOTONICS 2017. Reason enough to take a closer look at them.

And the winner is: ContinUse Biometrics! The start-up won the PHOTONICS Award 2017 in Munich in June. It convinced the judges with technology that borders on science fiction. The Israeli-Spanish-American team developed a sensor system that measures more than 20 vital parameters of patients without touching them. These include cardiac and respiratory frequency, heart and lung sounds, blood pressure, blood glucose and blood alcohol levels, and muscle activity. The founders say that these measurements are also possible from a distance of several hundred meters.

Although it sounds unbelievable, various well-known investors and partners are convinced, including global players like Motorola and Lenovo. They want to integrate the camera-based sensors in smartphones soon. These sensors register tiny vibrations on the patient’s body. A specially developed optical system detects interferences that trigger the body vibration in a laser beam with which the system scans the body. During eight years of research, Professor Zeev Zalevsky from Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv and Prof. Javier Garcia from Valencia University developed algorithms to interpret these interferences. Gradually, they fine-tuned the method so that not only heart beat and breathing could be measured, but also tiny deviations in cardiac and respiratory functions. But there was more potential. The interference analyses also allow glucose and alcohol levels to be determined. This is done via the effect of blood viscosity, which in turn, influences heart beat and cardiac frequency.

Innovative start-ups at LASER World of PHOTONICS 2017

ContinUse Biometrics beat 19 teams in the final round. The award, which comes with cash and material prizes totaling EUR 25,000, is presented in the course of the START-UP World at LASER World of PHOTONICS in Munich and is organized in cooperation with Anwendungszentrum GmbH Oberpfaffenhofen (AZO). According to the jury, the teams ATR Elements from Gilching near Munich and Crystalline Mirror Solutions (CMS) from Vienna also stood out among the many innovative start-ups.

With ATR Elements GbR, which took second place, the name says it all. ATR stands for “attenuated total reflection”—a widespread method of infrared (IR) spectroscopy. The Garching-based start-up developed sample carriers made from micro-structured silicon. Expensive diamond carriers that require time-consuming cleaning after the measurements are still in use. However, these silicon carriers are so cheap that they can be disposed of after use. And they have other advantages: the micro-structures on their surface act like a filter that sieves solid components from biofluids. In the case of blood, this means that blood cells and plasma can be separated without a centrifuge. Also, more infrared light penetrates hollows in the sample structure. The IR spectra are considerably strengthened, which enables reliable analyses even with very small volumes of sample.

Improved IR spectroscopy and extremely precise laser optics

CMS, the start-up from Vienna, Austria is also working on improved equipment for photonics. Its contribution towards more exact atomic clocks, physical measurements, and medical diagnoses is a coating process with which they can apply monocrystalline mirror coatings based on gallium arsenide heterostructures on to many different substrates. With this, the founders create the basis for ultrastable optical mirrors with minimum Brownian noise. Depending on the design, these are destined to be used in high-precision interferometry, applications in the middle infrared range, or active mirror systems that are needed in ultrafast high-performance lasers. The thermal conductivity of the super mirrors is also about 30 times higher than sputtered mirrors; the team has thus created the key requirement for laser systems to provide perfect results even when the amplifier medium is subjected to extreme thermal stress.

Like all the other exhibiting teams of Start-Up World, the three winning teams are living proof of the rate at which photonics encourages innovative ideas and also the potential of fine-tuned optical systems and processes. The era of light has just begun, not only for the start-up teams.