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Manchester start-up LIG Nanowise launch world’s most powerful optical microscope.


Based in the Manchester Science Park, start-up LIG Nanowise specialises in the application of microsphere technology (material spheres smaller than the width of a human hair) to solve industrial, medical, and research and development problems.

Their latest SMAL (Super-resolution Microsphere Amplified Lens) technology has been designed, developed, and built in Manchester. 

The new technology makes it possible for the first time to view the structure of viruses with a regular microscope, not one that uses electron beams or X-rays to observe very tiny objects.

The challenge:

To see the invisible.

Optical microscopes are limited by the diffraction limit of light to about 200 nanometres. SMAL uses a microsphere to collect and focus invisible light – making the invisible visible.

Current super-resolution systems are expensive, difficult to use, and can damage samples. SMAL is the world’s most affordable, user friendly solution allowing anyone with experience in using a wide-field microscope, the most popular form of microscope in the world, to easily view super-resolution for the first time.

As well as providing a unique view of the nanoscopic world – SMAL is the first super-resolution technique that can image in true colour – opening up the possibility of imaging living biological samples, over time. This could provide a unique insight into the mechanisation of bacteria and viruses, giving researchers the opportunity to better understand how biological entities react to drugs and therapies.From industrial fault inspection, to the development of cancer drugs, SMAL offers new possibilities. But the company needed support to develop a range of case studies using academic users of microscopes found within universities across Greater Manchester to help them demonstrate the value of their new product.


The solution:

Alex Sheppard, commercial director of LIG Nanowise, recognised the need to work directly with universities in the area to develop a range of academic case studies testing the utility of their new imaging method.

Alex explains: “It was critical for us to validate our technology through working with the universities in order to engage closely with end-users in the research sector.

“I’d heard a lot about the great work the Business Growth Hub was doing through my networks and following my enquiry I was introduced to the Hub’s business development manager at the University of Manchester, Rick Watson.”

Rick helped LIG Nanowise identify and contact local Greater Manchester university academics interested in trialling their microscope, which included the preparation of a technical brief.

As Rick explains: “The brief helped academics understand the innovation challenges the business was facing and exactly what support was required to test the limits of the new microscope.

“This resulted in a number of materials and biological samples from MMU academics and, most recently, archive samples from the Natural History Museum on Oxford Rd. We are also in touch with the National Graphene Institute and the University of Manchester’s Materials Science Department.

“The bottom line is the technology LIG Nanowise has developed will make research and development processes significantly faster.”

Several NHS contacts and universities including Aston University, Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Birmingham and University of Manchester are now actively working with LIG Nanowise. These collaborative partnerships are crucial to demonstrating the benefits of their new microscope to customers across the world and will result in new sales and job growth in Manchester.

Alex adds: “Our vision is to make super-resolution imaging a routine part of lab work and widely accessible, revolutionising drug discovery, cancer research, 2D materials research, microchip quality control and more.

“Furthermore we’re opening up new capabilities in super-resolution, such as video and full colour images.”

The team at LIG Nanowise is now in a position to enter the academic research and NHS marketplaces, already having a distributer in China, with aspirations to expand globally to key target sectors in the USA and EU which are worth 55% of the microscope market.

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