Photo: Thomas Tølbøl Sørensen

Start-up moves complex analyses out of laboratories

Monday 05 Aug 19
by Jeppe-Moelgaard-Thomsen


Anders Kristensen
Head of Sections, Professor
DTU Health Tech
+45 45 25 63 31

About photonic crystal

Photonic crystal is a material with a periodic structure, which prevents the propagation of light in specific wavelength ranges.
The company Copenhagen Nanosystems has incorporated nanotechnology into ordinary laboratory equipment and made it simpler to run advanced analyses of liquids.

Is the tap water contaminated with pesticides? Are there bacteria in it? In a few years, it may be possible to use your mobile phone for advanced analyses of liquids. This is due to a nanotechnological invention developed by the start-up Copenhagen Nanosystems.

The company has managed to incorporate nanoscale photonic crystals into the surface of small plastic containers—also known as cuvettes in professional language—making it possible to easily analyse many types of liquids. The research that led to the creation of Copenhagen Nanosystems was conducted in Professor Anders Kristensen’s nanotechnology research group at DTU Health Tech.

Up until now, running advanced analyses of liquids has been a comprehensive task. But that is changing. With the new nanotechnological cuvette, the advanced analyses can be carried out in a much easier way.

“Now you don’t have to invest in an expensive, high-tech laboratory and hire specially trained staff to carry out the analyses. It can be done with our product alone,” says Emil Højlund-Nielsen, CEO of Copenhagen Nanosystems.

Photonic crystal is the solution

Novozymes in Søborg has tested the cuvettes, and they recognize potential new opportunities for e.g. product demonstrations.

“It can create new opportunities to approach customers and show them what our products can do for them, without having to drag the entire laboratory along,” says Gernot Abel, Science Manager at Novozymes, in a press release.

There is big business in laboratory analyses of medicine and food, because manufacturers must document all the substances their products contain. The cheapest analyses can be ordered for approx. DKK 1,500 from external suppliers, while the overheads associated with running a private laboratory with private equipment can easily run into six figures.

Among other things, the price of a laboratory analysis depends on whether you need to document coloured or colourless substances in a sample. The coloured substances absorb light and can easily be found with a spectrophotometer, which is standard equipment in most laboratories.

The way it works is that you mix your sample with liquid in a cuvette and insert it in the spectrophotometer, where light is sent through the sample and a detector registers how much light escapes to the other side. The spectrophotometer can thus identify the liquid’s material composition by taking a picture of how much light the substances in the sample absorb.

However, this method is inadequate when analysing colourless liquids, as they do not absorb light and are therefore invisible to the spectrophotometer. This is where the nanoscale photonic crystal can make a difference.

“Nanotechnology operates with very small sizes, and we can use this to separate more colours from each other than our eyes and the spectrophotometer can. In short, if you send the light from the spectrophotometer through the photonic crystal first, it will look as though the colourless substances do have a colour after all,” says Emil Højlund-Nielsen.

Photo: Thomas Tølbøl Sørensen   



The photonic crystal is seen here as the blue-purple square on the plastic container.

Photo: Thomas Tølbøl Sørensen.

Two distribution agreements

In 2018, Copenhagen Nanosystems launched their first product, NanoCuvette™ One, used for concentration measurements of e.g. proteins. The cuvettes cost about EUR 9 (DKK 70) each. The company has also entered into two distribution agreements which focus on the market in the Nordic countries and on ‘emerging markets’ such as India and Russia.

According to Emil Højlund-Nielsen, however, Copenhagen Nanosystems still hasn’t passed the most important milestone, which will indicate whether the business model is viable in the long run, despite the great interest in the company’s technology.

“We’ve launched the rocket, but we still don’t know whether it will leave the atmosphere or explode on the way. We don’t really know whether we’ll have a successful business until we start to experience resale—that is, those who have previously purchased our products return to order more,” he says.

Analyses with mobile phones

The launch of NanoCuvette is just the first step for Copenhagen Nanosystems. Because just as the product will make expensive laboratory equipment and highly skilled staff redundant for advanced laboratory analyses, it may also remove the need to use a spectrophotometer in the long run.

“The cameras in our mobile phones are constantly getting better, and soon they’ll be just as good as the optics found in a spectrophotometer. It is our long-term ambition that our product can carry out the same analyses with nothing but the camera in a mobile phone. Think about how cool it would be if you could test the quality of your drinking water or your fruit and vegetables for pesticides right then and there,” says Emil Højlund-Nielsen.

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