In this interview, Joe Wragg from LIG Nanowise talks to AZoOptics about their microsphere enabled lenses and how they are used in applications.
Please give us a quick introduction to LIG Nanowise.
We are a start-up based in Manchester Science Park just next to the University of Manchester, specialising in super-resolution optical imaging. The original work upon which the company formed was published in Nature Communications in 2011 , describing the ability to resolve features far beyond the diffraction limit of visible light by imaging through microspheres placed on the surface of a sample.
Since then, intense research by the optical engineers at LIG Nanowise has allowed us to create a super-resolution microsphere amplifying lens (SMAL). SMAL offers a non-contact, non-destructive way of imaging a surface in full colour down to a resolution of under 100 nm. Our first microscope, called the Nanoro M - offering optical super-resolution brightfield microscopy with high speed stitch scanning in full colour - became available to buy in 2018. Since then, Nanoro has sold internationally and generated interest from research and industry across a wide range of fields, from advanced materials research to semiconductor fault inspection.
Why did you decide to exhibit at Photonex Europe 2019? Will you be exhibiting at any other tradeshows in 2019 or 2020?
Photonex and tradeshows of its kind offer invaluable opportunity to interact with our consumer base. Meetings like this not only allow us to showcase our world-leading technology but give us a chance to gauge the requirements and capabilities that research, and industry alike are looking for in new equipment. It is also a great chance to network and lay the foundations for new collaborations and projects working with universities and businesses. So far this year we have attended tradeshows such as Semicon West, Eureka Global Innovations Summit, Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft Spring Meeting and more – we look forward to revisiting these shows and others over the coming 12 months.
Could you give a brief overview of microsphere enabled lenses and how they are used?
SMAL lenses are precisely engineered to incorporate microsphere lenses into the optical set-up of a standard microscope objective. Imaging through the microsphere allows the observation of sub-diffraction limited features. The stitching and scanning capabilities of the Nanoro M means that super-resolution images over large areas (current stage can stitch areas up to 64mm2) can be created with ease and measured using the Nanoro software’s metrology tool. The resulting images often offering information about a sample that has never been observed before.
What application areas do LIG Nanowise solutions currently cover?
We have imaged for researchers and companies across a breadth of fields. From the semiconductor industry to 2D material sciences and earth sciences, imaging volcanic mineralogy samples to microprocessors. There are many fields of science that can benefit from imaging at super-resolution in full colour.
You’ve recently been working with the GEIC and Graphene at Manchester University – could you please tell us about this project?
Our collaboration with the GEIC has been fruitful. It has allowed us to develop a series of imaging techniques (Differential Interference Contrast, Adjustable Oblique Illumination etc.) for the microscope as well as us being able to produce some truly spectacular images. We will continue to work with the centre to study the aging of chemically deposited graphene across different substrates, as well as using the Nanoro M to study a range of innovative methods that are currently being developed at the GEIC to improve the efficiency in the engineering of the material.
How do you think the use of your products will advance future scientific research and development? Could you give us any specific examples?
What I feel really sets us apart from other inspection techniques is the level of precision and detail that we can inspect a material with, whilst leaving the material completely unaffected. By imaging purely optically with white light, we can ensure that a sample’s properties and features are sustained throughout the inspection process. This allows the Nanoro M to be used as an inspection tool in line
, while offering much greater detail than other microscopes can achieve. This has recently benefitted our partners such as Swansea University’s lithography research group, with whom we have an ongoing collaboration. Their progress in their work towards improving imprint lithography techniques has been aided by the super-resolution of SMAL – work that will soon be published using images acquired on the Nanoro M.
What makes LIG Nanowise and its solutions unique?
Quite simply, we offer the world-leading standard in optical microscopy. We allow our customers to see more detail, while still retaining full colour, than any other microscope. The microsphere technology we provide remains unique – as do the solutions that it can provide.
About Joe Wragg
Joe joined LIG Nanowise shortly after graduating with an MSc hons. in chemical physics from the University of Edinburgh in the summer of 2019. Having worked as placement student in the Central Laser Facility, he sought to continue a career in optics whilst joining a start-up developing innovative technology. At LIG Nanowise, Joe has been focussing on expanding the application areas of company’s products, maximising the impact that microsphere imaging can have on the scientific community.
REF:  Wang, Zengbo, et al. "Optical virtual imaging at 50 nm lateral resolution with a white-light nanoscope." Nature communications 2 (2011): 218.
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