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3D imaging microscope wins start-up award at Laser World of Photonics

A microscope for 3D cellular imaging has won a photonics start-up award at Laser World of Photonics in Munich. The Photonics award, presented for the first time at the show on 24 June, was won by Nanolive, a start-up based at the EPFL Innovation Park in Switzerland.

Founded in 2013, the company developed its 3D Cell Explorer microscope which makes it possible to examine living cells in 3D at a resolution beyond the optical diffraction limit without damaging them. The system is able to observe the inner workings of cells, including nuclei and organelles, without the need for any labelling or other invasive methods.

The Nanolive technology uses a technique called quantitative cell tomography to provide a measurement of the refractive index distribution within the cell and enable direct imaging of unstained living biological specimens. The system also contains self-adjusting optics to achieve optimal results for every measurement.

‘Due to its transparent nature, it has been impossible to look inside a living cell without damaging it, even if you were to use the latest Nobel Prize technology,’ said Yann Cotte, CEO of Nanolive. ‘With Nanolive, we completely oppose this trend. We can finally enable researchers to experience the cell as it is − alive, and in 3D.’

Nanolive plans to release the technology initially as an affordable device for laboratories and schools, and starting from 2017, the company wants to move into more industrial applications. By 2022, they estimate there will be $200 million of potential revenue.

The competition seeks to recognise the best product innovations from up-and-coming companies in a broad spectrum of optical technologies. Applications were submitted from 10 different application fields, including biophotonics, imaging, optoelectronics, and additive manufacturing.

Swiss company Femtoprint was awarded the prize in the 3D printing category for its 3D production system for glass micro-devices. The tabletop instrument offers 3D printing functions for manufacturing nanostructures in micro-system components using glass or other transparent materials. The technology uses femtosecond lasers to assemble complex 3D microstructures of less than 1µm, such as those needed for advanced medical equipment.

During her pitch, Femtoprint CEO, Nicoletta Casanova, said that the company decided to develop the technology to provide companies, labs, and universities with the capability to produce 3D micro-components without the need for a clean room. It was then discovered that the device could be used to create complex structures.

The prizes were presented by Dr Ronald Mertz, head of the Innovation, Research, and Technology Office of the Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Media, Energy, and Technology. 

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