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Using the latest photonics technology a group of European scientists are developing a multi-gas detector that can spot dozens of harmful emissions with a single sensor in milliseconds, delivering a breakthrough for the prevention of climate change.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that concentrations of Methane (CH4) in the atmosphere are roughly two and a half times those of pre-industrial times. The primary component of natural gas, Methane is over 20 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide and can remain in the atmosphere for more than a decade.
With natural gas and petroleum systems being the largest source of CH4 emissions from industry, and with the USA pledging a 40-45% reduction in methane emissions from 2012 levels by 2025, it has never been more important to have effective monitoring equipment.
Exploiting new photonics technology, the H2020 project MIREGAS (‘Mid-IR source for Gas Sensing’) has come up with their solution: a novel, low cost sensor that has the potential to be programmed to detect an unlimited number of gases.
The first of its kind, MIREGAS aims to deliver a single, multi-band gas sensor that can be easily deployed in strategic points of methane emissions, such as on oil rigs or in industrial areas, and monitor dozens of Greenhouse gasses all at once.
While current technology can take up to 10 seconds to produce a positive ID, the device can detect dozens of harmful emissions in milliseconds, making it several thousand times faster state of the art gas sensors, and, effectively a real-time instrument.
The size of a mobile phone, the gadget can pick out poisonous gases from a mixture of emissions, including methane, ethane, butane, propane, CO2, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide and benzene, all from one compact filter.
Combining the principles seen in fibre optic communications, the MIREGAS gadget exploits multiplexing-to-demultiplexing filters, modulating and wavelength tuning, with Mid-IR spectroscopic sensing technologies, a process never seen before.
Professor Pentti Karioja from the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd, explains:
“Because the MIREGAS device is adjustable, it is possible to use only one light source instead of several lasers. This means that we can make multiple readings and monitor several harmful gases simultaneously through one sensor.”
While Mid IR spectroscopic equipment exists, current sensors are based on the use of filters, spectrometers or tuneable lasers, meaning a several lasers would be needed for corresponding gases.
“The possibility to tailor a spectral response to match any wanted set of absorption lines with any desired bandwidth is a major advantage of our filtering approach when compared to the single narrow line of a tuneable laser”, said Karioja.
Initially the MIREGAS device is expected to be deployed in several industrial fields such as building ventilation, process control and safety, gas leakage monitoring, personal, pipeline and explosion safety. However the capabilities for observing dangerous greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere will provide practical tools for tackling climate change.
Pawel Kluczynski of Airoptic, a key partner in the MIREGAS consortium, says:
"Excessive methane emissions are dangerous, and can have a considerably greater warming effect than carbon dioxide. The widespread application of methane emission detection, as well as all of the hydrocarbons from C1 to C5 is a key area for the MIREGAS technology.”
“Not only are our measuring costs ten times cheaper than methods used today but our spectral resolution is 10 times better compared to conventional MOEMS filters used currently in gas sensors. It offers 24/7 protection, there is no need for recalibration and you don’t need a Ph.D to operate it.”
At the foreseen manufacturing cost of below €300 per unit, the proposed approach is extremely competitive against conventional gas sensors which can cost in excess of €75,000. “These devices currently in the market are either expensive complicated and heavy instruments, or the applied measurement principles are inadequate in terms of stability and selectivity” said Kluczynski
Coordinated in Finland by VTT, the MIREGAS project has received a grant of €3,588,262 from H2020 via the Photonics Public Private Partnership. MIREGAS is comprised of a consortium of members from Finland, Poland and Norway, including Tampere University of Technology, Vaisala OYJ, the Instytut Technologii Materialow Elektronicznych, Airoptic Spolka z Ograniczona Odpowiedzialnoscia, Vigo System S.A. and Gassecure AS
Outbreaks of Legionnaire’s Disease, a respiratory infection that can cause pneumonia, and in severe cases organ failure or septic shock, are more common than we might think. With anyone being susceptible, more than 100 cases are reported each week both in America and in Europe, with a fatality rate of around 10%.
Naturally occurring in freshwater lakes and rivers, the Legionella bacterium is harmless in small enough quantities, but problems start when it multiplies in plumbing systems, air conditioning units, Jacuzzis, decorative fountains or in a public water supply. Here it can be transmitted to humans when it condenses into droplets of fine mist which are inhaled and then settle in the lungs.
Roughly 5,000 cases are reported in the United States every year, while 2013 saw 5,851 cases reported by 28 EU Member States and Norway, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control (ECDC).
The European group POSEIDON, (or ‘Plasmonic-based automated lab-on-chip sensor for the rapid in-situ detection of Legionella’) intends to change all this, having developed their scanner to spot the deadly Legionella bacteria in under one hour, a process that normally takes 10 days of cultivation and analysis.
Equipped with tiny sensors, the device works by using the photonics technique of Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR), a procedure that reads information from a refracted laser beam, allowing fast, highly sensitive, inexpensive detection from a small sample without the need for ‘labelling’, the process of binding to a protein in order to be detected.
SPR occurs when polarized beams of light hit a metal film at the interface of two media. A charge density oscillation of free electrons (or “surface plasmons”) at the metal film occurs, reducing the intensity of reflected light. The scale of the reduction depends on the substance on the metal at the interface. Information then gathered from the refracted can then be analysed, and a pre-programmed pathogen confirmed, resulting in an unambiguous detection of the bacteria in situ.
“Detection and investigation of viruses, bacteria and eukaryotic cells is a rapidly growing field in SPR bio sensing, but the detection has only been achieved in laboratory settings. With our unique innovative SPR sensing architecture, POSEIDON provides reliable measurement readouts of legionella bacterial cells that are driven and entrapped on a custom sensing surface specifically designed with opportune positive and negative controls.”
Surviving and flourishing at temperatures between 25º to 45º C, Legionella bacteria are normally prevented by heating water units above 70º C in order to kill them off. However new bacteria can form quickly, and not all of the pathogens are necessarily removed. The POSEIDON project aims to remove the uncertainty involved. Scientific coordinator, Roberto Pierobon explains:
“POSEIDON is a first for detecting Legionella with light and provides an inexpensive, user-friendly, state of the art early warning system on an air-conditioning unit. We aim to reduce the time involved in a diagnosis from 10 days to less than 1 hour. In order to prevent outbreaks at critical times of the year, we should be talking about a matter of minutes, rather than days.”
“Cells remain intact throughout the whole fluid transportation system in the device, and do not adhere to the fluidic piping and microfluidic channels. Virtually all of the bacteria cells in the sample are delivered to the sensing unit, giving extremely high sensitivity and specificity,” said Pierobon.
Hoping to have these revolutionary new pathogen detectors ready within 3 years, Bruno Bellò, project coordinator and CEO of Clivet, is excited about the implications for the future,
“The exciting feature of this device is that with future development, it could be recalibrated to look for other pathogens, which would provide incredible safety options for the environmental, medical or food industries,” Bellò said.
Earlier last year the POSEIDON consortium received funding of € 4,068,781 from the Photonics Public Private Partnership, via the European Commission’s H2020 program for a three year research project. Coordinated in Italy, POSEIDON is comprised of a number of European partners, including Protolab, Clivet, A.R.C (Italy), Catlab (Spain), Metrohm Applikon (Netherlands), and Uppsala University (Sweden).
The POSEIDON consortium is set to run a Spring School in 2017 Photonics for Health and Diagnostics Applications, hosted in the Dolomites Mountains region, Northern Italy. With networking opportunities available, this international symposium aims to promote the new research of the project to the entire photonics community.
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With over 22 million X-rays being recorded in the NHS in England last year, they are a diagnostic test that most of us are familiar with. Scientists have often sought to reduce harmful ionizing radiation, the high-energy particles that penetrate tissue to reveal internal organs and bone structures that can damage DNA, from single x-ray records or CT scans.
Although this ionizing radiation can be reduced, traditionally it has come at the expense of the image resolution and type of detector.
As a result of the two types of X-ray technology that exist today, diagnosis can only take the form of a high resolution image, seen with ‘Direct Converters’ that are used in Mammography, or a low radiation dose, seen with ‘Indirect Converters’ that are used in Radiography or Fluoroscopy.
Direct converters are based on semiconductors which directly convert X-Rays into electrical signals (e.g. amorphous Selenium), while indirect converters make use of scintillators (e.g. Caesium Iodide) which emit light upon X-Ray irradiation, and convert it into electrical signals by a photodetector.
One is fine for micro anomalies in breast tissue, the other for larger structures like bones or larger blood vessels, but never has there been a hybrid of the two.
Combining these advantages the DiCoMo, (or ‘Direct conversion hybrid-organic X-ray detectors on metal oxide backplane’) project is developing a new digital X-Ray detector capable of producing high resolution images that, in the envisioned product, rival a 16 mega pixel photograph. With lower radiation doses and at a fraction of the cost this is excellent news for staff at hospitals like radiologists or dentists and patients, particularly small children.
Current indirect detectors, which offer a lower dose of radiation, generate light in all directions as soon as an X-ray photon is absorbed in it, hitting a large number of pixels on the photodetector array and creating limited spatial resolution. Project coordinator Dr Sandro Tedde of SIEMENS HEALTHINEERS explains:
“The result is like a blurred photograph, or ‘frosted’ bathroom glass, where light bounces off the surface at different angles. In indirect converters there is always a compromise between resolution and sensitivity”.
DiCoMo combines the advantages of both technologies by fusing radical innovations in the frontplane, the part of the device converting X-rays into electrical signals, and the backplane, which stores and drives the signals from the pixels to the readout circuitry and digital image reconstruction.
It works by getting an ‘indirect converter’, with low radiation output, to behave in the way we would expect to see a ‘direct converter’ perform, a technique DiCoMo calls the “Quasi-Direct” effect. This allows the images to have the high resolution typical for direct converters by using scintillators and the great sensitivity they enable.
Contrary to the indirect approach, where the scintillator is stacked on top of the photodetector array, the DiCoMo technique embeds the scintillator into the photodetector itself, meaning the absorption of light occurs right where it has been generated and no optical ‘crosstalk’ between pixels occurs. This produces high spatial resolution typically seen in direct converters, a result never before achieved.
DiCoMo’s second innovation is in the technology of the backplane, which is developed by TNO and IMEC, where the ‘Active Pixels’ made from metal-oxide thin-film transistors amplify the charge within the backplane pixel itself, creating a stronger signal in situ.
Active pixels are state of the art in CMOS imagers but have not been used so far in imagers based on transistor technologies made of amorphous semiconductors, like those used in medical X-Ray detectors. A customised readout chip (ROIC) developed by the partner ICSense is key for enabling the readout of the active pixel array and achieving the envisioned high frame rates.
“Similar to CMOS camera technology, where millions of tiny photo sensors and transistors create an electrical current when exposed to light, our Active Pixel technology gives us a ‘louder’ signal at a much higher frame rate than ever before” says Dr Tedde.
“The fastest flat panel X-Ray detectors with state of the art technology deliver around 60 frames per second, whereas DiCoMo aims to double this by capturing at 130 fps, permitting a physician to examine vital organs not only in high resolution, but also moving images in slow motion.”
DiCoMo came up with the solution of using a hybrid X-ray absorption and conversion layer by embedding scintillating micro-particles into an organic semiconductor photo detecting bulk, in a pattern resembling the raisin parts in a raisin loaf. This prevents the light from being widely spread over several pixels since the light to electrical signal conversion occurs in the same pixel where the X-ray photon has been absorbed preserving the spatial information.
Earlier last year, the DiCoMo consortium received funding of €3,277,034.75 from the Photonics Public Private Partnership, via the European Commission’s H2020 program for a three year research project in a Research and Innovation action. Hoping to have these revolutionary new x-ray detectors ready within 5 years, Tedde is excited about the implications for the future,
“The versatility of this device is impressive not just for its use medical, veterinary and dental surgeries, but also with its increased speed and resolution the DiCoMo detector would be really attractive to customs or the military for scanning relevant material”.
Coordinated in Germany by SIEMENS HEALTHINEERS, the project is made up of partners from Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, and Italy, including BASF Switzerland, Belgian microelectronics center IMEC, Dutch research company TNO, Belgian chip designer ICsense NV and Italian simulation specialist MorphwiZe.
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You may know it as a common laser, a key part of your super-fast fibre optic broadband, a component in your mobile phone, or an important feature in the latest medical instruments at your local hospital. But it is much more than that.
Photonics is the science and technology of light. It encompasses all of the products and processes around the emission, manipulation, transmission and detection of light and other electromagnetic radiation. It can carry far more information than radio frequency and microwave signals.
It may not be obvious, but it underpins a large number of industries. And it’s not just in grand projects and big business like aerospace, homeland security or biotechnology. Photonics affects all of us in our everyday lives, improving food production with remote sensing, advancing healthcare and keeping a close eye on global warming.
Photonics really is the future. What the electron did for 20th century, with advances in electronics and electricity, so will the photon do for technology of the 21st century with photonics.
The European Commission has long recognized its potential, and has been heavily supporting photonics technology shaping the future. In 2009, the European Commission defined Photonics as one of five European Key Enabling Technologies (KET’s), and invested €700 Million through the European Research & Innovation Program “Horizon 2020”.
Shortly after the start of H2020, it launched Photonics Public Private Partnership (PPP), a long-term commitment between the EC and the photonics stakeholders in Europe. The aim was simple: to secure Europe’s industrial leadership, economic growth and to generate new jobs.
The European photonics industry made the strongest commitment to date, by investing a staggering €5.6 billion in research, innovation and manufacturing in Europe by matching every €1 spent by the European Commission in the PPP, with €4 by industry. To compound matters, Photonics will now have a central role in the Digitising European Industry strategy.
With the global photonics market growing at twice the world economic growth rate, from €350 Billion in 2011 to €615 Billion in 2020, Photonics21 stands in a secure global market position. The production of European photonics alone accounts for €60 billion and employs over 350,000 people directly.
Photonics is providing solutions to many of the global challenges we face, like improved agriculture and farming, providing clean water and sanitisation, and developing the latest medical diagnostics tools to tackle cancers, sepsis, and blindness. With photonics, we are striving to create a better quality of life for all.
Next time you tap on a smartphone, (a device in your pocket that holds more information than all the books in all of the libraries in the world), or watch your smart TV, if you happen to get into a self-driving car, or perhaps when you next ‘facetime’ your loved ones, think of photonics.
Over 2.5 million people in Europe and more than 5.4 million Americans suffer from hypersensitivity to Beta Lactam Antibiotics (BLCs), the most commonly prescribed drugs that contain the penicillin family, with up to 10 percent of people reporting an allergy.
Despite its effectiveness, many people avoid penicillin and its relatives fearing a severe allergic reaction, where symptoms can include wheezing, coughing, breathing problems, tissue swelling, or in some serious cases anaphylaxis, requiring urgent medical attention.
Currently, anaphylaxis leads to 500–1,000 deaths per year in the United States, 20 deaths per year in the United Kingdom, and 15 deaths per year in Australia. It is thought that drugs may be accountable for as many as 1 in 2 anaphylactic deaths
With existing in-vitro allergy detection technology delivering a waiting time of over 3 hours and a cost of €30 per allergen, a team of European researchers running the Horizon 2020 project COBIOPHAD (‘Compact Biophotonic Platform for Drug Allergy Diagnosis’), aim to improve this with their scanning device employing the latest photonics technology.
Similar in size to a small notebook computer, the detector, which could be used in hospitals in as little as five years, examines a tiny plasma sample from the patient’s blood, producing a result in less than 30 minutes and at a cost of €2.40 per allergen, a twelfth of the current price.
It works by ‘reading’ a compact disc-like cartridge with a laser, similar to the way an everyday CD ROM drive in your computer works. The cartridge contains pre-loaded Beta Lactam reagents which will recognise a specific Immunoglobulin E (IgE), (the antibody contained in blood that plays a vital part in manifestation of allergy), and a secondary tracer antibody.
When the patient’s blood sample is run across the cartridge, if there is a positive response the lgE will recognise the antibiotic and the laser will read the reaction product, leading to an unambiguous detection. The intensity of this signal is related to the levels of hypersensitivity within the patient for ten different targeted Beta Lactams.
Although similar laser-reading tests exist, the COBIPHAD device distinguishes itself not only in terms of speed, cost and size, but also because it has the potential to look at a greater number of samples per disc by testing different drugs at different compartments of the cartridge and avoiding contamination. Exploitation Manager, Dr Ian McKay explains:
“The COBIOPHAD device aims to take drug hypersensitivity detection into a new era: compared to current tests our device can deliver a rapid diagnosis of the main allergenic BLCs in less than half an hour, making it 6 times faster.”
“With an improved in vitro diagnostic (IVD), we offer a much more patient-friendly alternative to the invasive and risky in vivo testing. Current IVDs, developed with bulky auto-analysers and based on classical technologies, show poor sensitivity (less than 40%) and detection limits (more than 0.2 kU per litre), analyse only five beta-lactam antibiotics and give false-positive and negative results.”
“The COBIOPHAD approach must reach a sensitivity of 80% with a detection limit below 0.1 kU per litre. It deploys an increased multiplexing capability, looking at more samples per disc and examines a greater number of BLCs per sample. As a result the overall system is a hundred times more efficient.”
With savings of €27.60 per patient amounting to a colossal €69 million per year from European sufferers, and by significantly reducing the costs from additional hospitalization from allergic reactions to certain drugs creating potential savings in this area of up to €4500 per patient, the COBIOPHAD team have large scale ambitions.
Earlier this year the COBIOPHAD project received a grant of €3,734,780.64 from the EU via the H2020 and the Photonics Public Private Partnership. Concluding at the end of 2018, COBIOPHAD is made up of a number of high profile European organisations, including Universitat Politècnica de València (Spain), Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Montpellier (France), Dr. Fooke-Achterrath Laboratorien GMBH (Germany), DAS Photonics (Spain), Fundación para La Investigación del Hospital Universitario de la Comunidad Valenciana (Spain), Optoelectronica (Romania), Stiftelsen Sintef (Norway), EurExploit Ltd (UK), STRATEC Consumables (Austria) and Biotronics 3D Limited (UK)
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The next Photonics Public Private Partnership Annual Meeting has been scheduled on the 28th and 29th March 2017. The event will be held in Brussels. We kindly invite you to already mark the date in your calendar. Any further details will be communicated and published on the Photonics21 website within the next months.
The ‘PhotonicSensing’ call for proposals has been published online on 1September 2016. It invites research project proposals on photonic sensing techniques, aiming at technology readiness levels (TRL) 3 to 6, for the following application areas:
• Safety including food safety
• Civil security
• Manufacturing / production
• Environmental monitoring
• Medical applications
Project consortia should be made up of companies and research institutions from at least two of the participating countries and regions: Austria, Flanders Region (Belgium), Germany, Israel, Poland, Portugal, Turkey, Tuscany Region (Italy) and the United Kingdom. In exceptional cases, partners from additional countries or regions may join the consortia without receiving funding under the ‘PhotonicSensing’ competition.
Complete information on the competition including guidance for applicants is available from the call website at https://photonicsensing.eu/call-2016/
The camera, measuring the size of a shoebox, uses Multi Spectral Imaging, a process that captures the same image at different frequencies from the electromagnetic spectrum.
Certain combinations of multispectral images can reveal information that humans cannot see, such as invisible or poisonous gasses, or fire sources through dense fog, providing an unrivalled level of surveillance.
Current MSI cameras are unsuitable for moving objects or real-time observation because they are not ‘snapshot’ devices and use a filter wheel that needs to be rotated. They contain sensors which use technology that needs to be cooled to work, meaning the equipment is bulky.
Weighing less than 2kg, the breakthrough device deploys the latest photonic sensing technology, featuring a multi-aperture, multi sensor camera capable of capturing several wavelengths simultaneously in one place.
With the World Health Organisation estimating in 2014 that nearly 600,000 deaths are a result of air pollution in Europe, and with monitoring of civil infrastructures being an important area for video surveillance equipment and services in the future, this device looks set to play a key role in high-tech safety and security.
Coordinated in Spain, the SEERS, or ‘Snapshot spectral imager for IR surveillance’, project has received a grant of €3,750,535 from Horizon 2020 via the Photonics Public Private Partnership. Project coordinator, Anton Garcia-Diaz explains:
“The SEERS device is equipped with integrated computational imaging. It has no need for cooling and can process the images in real-time, meaning key parts of processing are embedded within the device.”
This is not just good news for coastal and traffic surveillance but also the implications for the future of safety in tunnels and the Underground tube train network are exciting.
"Accidents in tunnels, while rare, are extremely serious when they do happen. Responding quickly and in a targeted manner is vital. We expect rescue and response times will be cut significantly with the SEERS camera", Garcia-Diaz said.
Based on CMOS compatible FPA manufacturing technology means it is much cheaper than alternative IR technology. A commercial monochromatic camera working in the mid infrared range of 3-5 µm wavelengths is a bulky, cooled device that costs anything over €70,000.
“Few imaging systems exist with the capability to identify gases, but even they can cost over €100,000. The SEERS project aims to deliver MSI technology in an extended infrared domain at under €40,000 with improved persistence and gas identification capabilities”, said Garcia-Diaz.
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The program, which will run for three and a half years, has joined a research group consisting of 13 companies and six research organizations. The majority of them are also members of the Slovenian national platform for photonics – Fotonika21.
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Matjaž Humar, a postdoctoral research assistant at the Condensed Matter Physics department, was awarded a special EUR 311,202 grant by the institute's director for a three-year period.
The goal is to launch a world-leading bio-integrated photonics lab, Humar told the STA news service. He explained that bio-integrated photonics was a new field with countless opportunities to explore.
To study living organisms, bio-integrated photonics traditionally relies on artificial light sources and optical components made from non-biocompatible materials.
Humar wants to take it one step further and develop optical material that is biocompatible and can be ingested or implanted in the human body. For example, biodegradable photonics would allow doctors to take higher resolution images deeper inside the body than ever before.
Last year, Humar and his colleague Seok-Hyun Yun of the Harvard Medical School succeeded in implanting and operating a laser inside a single living human cell for the first time. They also proved that fat cells already contain lasers that only need to be activated.
Humar presented his achievement at the 66th Nobel Laureate Meeting 2016 in Lindau, Germany. About 400 young scientists from 80 countries were invited, with 29 Nobel laureates in attendance.
His next goal is to build lasers entirely made of living cells and organisms that are biocompatible and biodegradable in the human body. At the moment he is working on a project that aims to build laser tattoos.
Matjaž Humar graduated from the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at the University of Ljubljana, and has a PhD in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology from the Jožef Stefan International Postgraduate School.
He has a postdoctoral position at the Harvard Medical School's Wellman Center for Photomedicine and is a Marie Curie fellow.
Published in STAscience, Ljubljana, 12 August
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