Advanced microscopy at a lower cost

mandag 09 dec 19


Oleksii Ilchenko
DTU Sundhedsteknologi
45 25 57 33


Anja Boisen
Sektionsleder, Professor
DTU Sundhedsteknologi
45 25 57 27
New paper in Nature Communications

With their new method called SAROM, a team of researchers lead by DTU Health Tech, have developed a unique method to characterize materials, the method fully compares to much more expensive and extensive methods such as X-ray microscopes or electron microscopy.
The research team includes scientists from Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, DTU Nanolab, University of Copenhagen, DTU Physics and Xnovo Technology.

Previously, if a company or a researcher wanted insights into how the atoms were arranged in a certain material to get detailed knowledge about the properties of the material, they needed access to instruments such as electron or X-ray microscopes, which are only available to a select few at specialized research facilities.

Now this knowledge can be obtained with the SAROM technique where light is used to study features on the nanoscale. The impact of this new technology is also highlighted by the fact that the inventors of SAROM has just got their findings published in Nature Communications.

"The results we generate from our Raman microscopy based technique compares to results that previously only could be obtained with million kroner equipment such as electron and x-ray microscopes"
Researcher Oleksii Ilchenko

“The results we generate from our Raman microscopy based technique compares to results that previously only could be obtained with million kroner equipment such as electron and x-ray microscopes”, Researcher Oleksii Ilchenko, who is the inventor of the technique, says.

Access to valuable measurements for the pharmaceutical industry

To get a better understanding of what this means, the pharma industry provides a good example.

The surface of a tablet is very important to pharma companies. A tablet is made up of microcrystals, and the structure, or the orientation, of the crystals determines how the tablet interacts with the human body e.g. how the drug is released in the body.

Before SAROM, pharma companies had no possibilities for checking the orientation of the crystals on the surface of the drugs. And was therefore not able to use the arrangement of crystals as a parameter to improve or control dissolution of the drug. Electron microscopy for example has the shortage that it only works with metals, so you have to metalize your surface to investigate it with an electron beam, which is not an option for tablets.

SAROM makes it possible for companies to make these measurements in their own labs as no major infrastructure is needed, or at the factories in the production line to make a feedback loop when producing the tablets to optimize each product quickly.

The method is broadly applicable, and can bring value to many different areas. It could also be for improving solar cell properties and production, here there is a need to know the crystallographic orientation in the material to be able to change different parameters to make the final product better. And they need to be able to check this maybe several times in a production line.

The method – briefly explained

SAROM is based on Raman spectroscopy, where light is used for chemical identification and imaging. In simple terms, several lasers shine light on the sample or material, then the scattered light is collected from different angles, and based on that information crystallographic orientation mapping can be created of the material in question. When compared to crystallographic orientation maps of the same material made by for example an electron microscope, the SAROM technique generates similar results – at a much cheaper price and faster.

“Throughout my research career I have worked with Raman microscopy and spectroscopy, and I was thinking about I could contribute to the field. I am a physicist so it was natural to look further into studying the interaction between light and matter”, Researcher Oleksii Ilchenko explains.

Further benefits of SAROM is that no sample preparation is needed, i.e. no need for polishing the sample or covering it in metal, as it is requited for electron microscopy. It is also a non-destructive method, which is relevant when you are working with very hard materials such as ceramics. There is no need to slice the material before it is analyzed. Finally, the method is applicable both for 2D and 3D orientation mapping.

The results that are published in the Nature Communications paper is based on four patents and has also lead to the establishment of a new start-up company Lightnovo ApS, which will develop the hardware system, the first actual product is expected to be launched in 2020.

The research has been done in the IDUN research group at DTU Health Tech, headed by Professor Anja Boisen.

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