Technological watch

Improving Capabilities of Nanoscale Imaging Instruments

Reviewed by Laura ThomsonMar 18 2022Chris Own likes to quote Lord Kelvin, one of the fathers of thermodynamics.

"When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it," Kelvin said in 1883. "But when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind."

In other words, Own says, "You get what you measure."

His company, Voxa, makes automated and portable nanoscale imaging instruments to scan and measure the infinite variety of nanosurfaces in our physical world, helping us to understand the universe we live in. As founder and CEO, the Hertz Fellow oversees the development of instruments that improve our understanding of materials and biological systems at the sub-micrometer scale, providing foundational elements for the next generation of technologies.

The company's focus is on improving capabilities of advanced instruments, and making those capabilities more widely accessible. His teams have helped researchers produce some of the largest anatomical datasets ever created and have sent the first electron microscope to space. The company also provides its clients with custom nanomechanical automation solutions.

Improving Advanced Instrument CapabilitiesVoxa systems are helping to unlock scientific secrets in a vast range of environments — from the infinite wilderness of outer space to cellular organization and interaction, from agricultural settings to research labs — and doing it in a variety of ways. Like automation: "We ask, how can we improve this thing by a factor of one million?" Own says. "One way is by removing people from the process of repetitive tasks, freeing them up to apply their brains to more important problems."

Own's team developed an ultra-high-throughput transmission electron microscope (TEM) imaging pipeline, called the Voxa Blade™, for sample delivery and imaging. With its exquisitely high resolution and sensitivity, TEM is considered the "gold standard" of nano-imaging. Using traditional manual electron microscopy workflows, it would take at least 1,000 years to fully image and model a whole mouse brain at the synapse level (~1 exabyte of data), but a fleet of Voxa's scalable Blade tools could achieve this within about a year.

Voxa’s technology is also bringing powerful electron optical imaging to new audiences and new places with its Mochii™ microscope. This equipment used to be as big as a pickup truck, but the Mochii is as compact as a coffeemaker and can run off an iPad — the innovation is in its portability, affordability, and accessibility. This means that its capabilities are accessible to a much wider population — not just researchers in well-funded labs — and can be used much farther afield.

Case in point: In February 2020, the Mochii microscope was sent into space for use aboard the International Space Station. This unique microgravity research platform provides in situ engineering analyses and mission science while orbiting. Scientists on Earth can schedule time to analyze their own research samples on-board, accelerating answers to many new scientific inquiries.

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Publication date: 18/03/2022



This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 870292.