Accessible material analysis
NuSight Photonics is developing miniature optical sensors and analyzers that can be used for material analysis without the significant cost and size barriers of conventional Raman spectroscopy, which today is used in a host of sensitive applications, from airport screening and forensics to bioreactor monitoring in pharmaceutical manufacturing. NuSight has developed a new optical design, along with an integrated photonic engine, that will enable it to improve the sensitivity of current Raman spectroscopy solutions by a factor of 100, while reducing the cost by a factor of 10.
Amir Atabaki has a decade of research experience in integrated photonics and optoelectronics. From 2013 to 2019, he worked as a research scientist and postdoctoral associate at MIT, where he focused on high-volume CMOS processes for large-scale integration of photonics with silicon nanoelectronics. He directly contributed to the development of the first microprocessor with optical I/O and the first electronic-photonic system-on-chip in scaled bulk CMOS. As founder of NuSight Photonics, he is leveraging these integrated platforms towards ubiquitous Raman spectroscopy solutions for molecular sensing. He received his Ph.D. from Georgia Tech, and his M.S. and B.S. from Sharif University of Technology, all in electrical engineering.
The six-figure price tag of today’s laboratory-grade Raman analyzers is prohibitive for most sensing needs in the industry and emerging markets, forcing the stakeholders to rely on low-throughput reagent-based analytical techniques or lower-cost, less sensitive Raman analyzers. This gap is felt in a variety of applications: in law enforcement, for the detection of street drugs including synthetic opioids (fentanyl); in the pharmaceutical industry, for monitoring small bioreactors in process development and drug discovery labs; and for emerging applications such as cancer screening and plant monitoring for precision agriculture. The lack of cost-effective and highly sensitive Raman analyzers is the biggest gap in the market and explains the small market penetration of Raman spectroscopy — just two percent of the analytical instruments market.
NuSight Photonics is reinventing Raman spectroscopy through a novel system architecture that surpasses the limitations of traditional Raman analyzers. Through a holistic design – from the laser to detector – the new architecture offers the performance of today’s laboratory-grade analyzers in a handheld device at one-tenth of the cost. In the short-term, this could address the immediate need for sensitive cost-effective analyzers in the security and forensics space, biotech industry, as well as in food and drug safety. Ultimately, NuSight’s photonic engines will be integrated onto a single chip, enabling the startup to leverage standard chip-scale manufacturing to make Raman sensing ubiquitous.
Potential for Impact
Most Raman analyzers today rely on dispersive tunable lasers that exhibit a fundamental tradeoff between size and sensitivity and require expensive, high-power lasers and cooled detector arrays to achieve decent performance. Another class of Raman analyzers relies on Fourier transform spectroscopy with a moving mirror which does not lend itself well to miniaturization and low-cost manufacturing. Other optical techniques — such as near infrared reflectance spectroscopy and hyper-spectral imaging — can be used for non-contact material analysis but these systems have low accuracy and lack specificity in identifying the materials’ molecular make-up. NuSight Photonics’ technology can make Raman sensing ubiquitous through chip-scale design and manufacturing. A network of these sensors can address a host of global challenges from security to food and drug safety, and facilitate the advent of Industry 4.0 and precision agriculture. The technology can also, for the first time, bring Raman sensing to the consumer market – for food and drug safety to health monitoring.
atabaki [at] mit [dot] edu