Turning ground-breaking research insights into real-world products and applications takes both brilliant minds and brilliant technology. Scientific curiosity operates in a realm without limits. If the instruments and apparatus needed to answer the questions raised by that curiosity don’t yet exist, they must be created. Researchers and innovative entrepreneurs at Amsterdam Science Park are pushing technological boundaries and harnessing AI and data science to develop the technology of the future.
Super-responsive sensors that can guide space satellites and create 3-D images of the earth’s structure kilometres below the surface. Electro-microscopes that can look beyond the smallest wavelength of light to achieve super-resolution. Scientific instruments based on technology developed at CERN – these are just a few of the advanced technology systems that are being put to work by researchers and businesses at Amsterdam Science Park. Leading institutions such as the Dutch National Institute for Subatomic Physics (Nikhef) and the University of Amsterdam (UvA) are driving the development of technology that can take science to the next level.
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Confocal.nl was founded in 2016 with the support of UvA’s valorisation arm to commercialise the concept of re-scan confocal microscopy (RCM), a super-resolution technique developed by UvA optic researchers. The company’s goal, says Confocal CEO Pim Vos, “is to make microscopic imaging more accessible and fun.” The importance of imaging in healthcare is increasing rapidly, both in the detection of diseases and the development of new medicines. But microscopy is a highly technical profession and, says Vos, there are not enough specialists to keep up with the demand.
Confocal’s products are intended to make the benefits of microscopy more widely accessible. “Why should you have to be able to do very technical things in order to do science? Why not make it easier?” asks Vos. “And that’s our agenda. That’s where our money goes. You have to be able to image thousands of nuggets of cells in a brief time and make it all comparable. That generates all the data, and that’s why we’re in a very good place here [at the Amsterdam Science Park].” Confocal makes use of the expertise in AI and data science at the park to, as Vos puts it, “make things faster and easier. The system is all set up, you just prepare your material, input it, then press the button and the data and your analysis come out, so to speak. Then you can focus on the real science, the real scientific work, on what is happening in those microstructures. That is what we want to achieve.”
Founded in 2013, Nikhef spinoff company Innoseis produces lightweight seismic sensors using technology derived from particle physics experiments. The sensors can make 3D images of the earth’s subsurface. These are used in the energy industry to investigate potential reservoirs of oil and gas, or suitable soil layers for geothermal energy as well as the suitability of sites for storing radioactive waste. The company is now in the R&D phase for a new generation of sensors that have enormous potential, according to Mark Beker, CEO of Innoseis. “We want to make sensors that are even smaller and lighter and more agile, so they can be used in areas such as self-driving cars, drones and satellites.”
The company recently carried out a project with the European Space Agency using their newly developed micro-electric mechanical systems (MEMS) sensors. “It’s very difficult to make these,” says Beker, “but recently we packaged a batch of MEMS sensors so that they work in a vacuum and we tested them with the help of the ESA to show that this type of sensor has achieved a world record in sensitivity.”
This sensitivity opens up many new opportunities, believes Beker. “We think we can also tap into whole new markets, which we don’t even know exist yet – markets where people would like such a sensor, but it hasn’t been available. More and more robotisation is taking place, in healthcare for instance, with mechanised devices that have to make very small movements, which our sensors could measure very precisely. And because the sensors are very small, they may also fit in a robotic arm for surgery.”
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