A new microscope created by a Velocity company is helping to make the nanoworld more accessible to the masses.

Nanoscale imaging company ICSPI –  a company at Velocity, University of Waterloo's startup incubator – is releasing a new atomic force microscope (AFM) that will help researchers effortlessly collect data more quickly than other similar devices.

The new microscope is automated, a world’s first, and is significantly smaller than other AFMs, which are typically the size of an industrial oven. ICSPI’s AFM will allow scientists and engineers to effortlessly collect three-dimensional data at nanoscale, a scale so small it's undetectable by a regular microscope.

Close up of the automated atomic force microscope

A close-up of ICSPI's automated atomic force microscope

“There’s a barrier to entry with standard AFMs because they are so frustrating to use, and the time that passes between putting a sample under the microscope and getting any data can take hours,” said David Morris, director of operations at ICSPI. “With ours, anyone can set it up and get data in minutes.”

The AFM’s technology is borne out of the same research that underpins camera-less eye-tracking device developed by AdHawk Microsystems, a company whose co-founders include Neil Sarkar and Waterloo professor Raafat Mansour. Both Sarkar and Mansour are also ICSPI co-founders.

“People respond in disbelief when they see our product for the first time,” Sarkar said. “We have overcome a believability hurdle and are building on our momentum with this new product. This new device relieves users’ frustration with traditional atomic force microscopes and saves their valuable time.”

Making nanoscale imaging more accessible is expected to have broad implications for academic and corporate R&D as well as manufacturing quality control.

New materials manufacturers, for example, can use an AFM device to quickly catch defects in the assembly line, potentially reducing waste, electricity use, and hazardous chemicals that typically are part of the production process.

hree-dimensional topographic images of skin cells rendered in colour to depict height at the nano

hree-dimensional topographic images of titanium alloy rendered in colour to depict height at the nano

Three-dimensional topographic images of skin cells (top image) and titanium alloy rendered in colour to depict height at the nanoscale with red peaks and purple valleys.

“If a scientific instrument like ours can give scientists and engineers their time back, that’s good for science,” Morris said. “Scientists should be spending time designing experiments and analyzing data. It shouldn’t be about getting the tool to work. Removing that barrier has the potential to accelerate scientific discovery like never before.”

Morris came to the Waterloo startup world after completing his graduate studies in Montreal. At the time, he was founder of a startup focused on relieving inefficiencies for researchers and joined ICSPI to advance that pursuit.

“Velocity has great mentorship and encourages valuable connections, which can make a big difference for startups,” Morris said. “There’s a certain energy that comes from being surrounded by other founders, and the startup density in this area is really unique.”

About Velocity

Velocity accelerates entrepreneurs' growth from idea to early-stage start-up and beyond. These founders have access to unmatched resources, collaboration space, funding, and an expansive and experienced network made possible only by the University of Waterloo — Canada's top university for founders. In the 15 years since its inception as a University of Waterloo residence, more than 400 Velocity companies have netted more than US$26 billion in enterprise value. 

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