The spectral information around us can be used in an expanding realm of technologies, especially as the detecting devices get smaller. To learn more about this, Spectroscopy magazine talked with Ger Loop, who is the Product Manager of Avantes, to discuss the future of miniature spectroscopy and the role Avantes wants to play in it.
How widespread is the use of miniature spectroscopy today? What fields are using miniature spectroscopy the most, and in what fields is the use currently growing?
Ger Loop: Although the use of miniature spectrometers gets more and more com- mon, I would say they’re still in their early stages, and new applications where spec- troscopy can be used are discovered every day. I think it’s hard to list all the fields and applications where they are used.
Applications are numerous, and it’s difficult to track all of the fields worldwide, but if I need to tag some of the growing fields, I would say there’s medical, pharma and agriculture, but these three are certainly not the only ones.
Can you tell us some of the examples of the types of problems that miniature spectrometers are being used to solve in some of these fields?
Again, there’s a little bit of risk in putting it in a list, but I can mention a couple. In the medical field, for instance, clinicians often use these in the analysis of blood and to determine the important blood parameters. In pharma, I think it’s mostly used for material identification, where you think about Raman technology to determine the fingerprint of materials.
I also mentioned the agricultural field, and we have several customers using our spectrometers to measure nitrogen. Nitrogen is a substance in fertilizers; so this way, one can optimize the amount of fertilizer being put on the crop field. There’s also use of spectroscopy in coatings for semiconductors, where spectrometers can be used to determine the thickness of the layer deposited with the coating. So, these are some of the examples in these fields, but there are many more.
As we think about those particular applications, what are the advantages of actually using miniature instruments?
Advantages of spectroscopy in general are that it is a nondestructive technology. More particular advantages of the miniature spectrometer are robust- ness, because there are no moving parts inside. You get quick results, quick measurements-thanks to the use of CCD technology. And their compact size makes them easy to integrate into, for instance, a desktop unit or, even smaller, into handheld devices.
What actually needs to be done to expand the use of miniature spec- trometers? For example, do the instruments still need to advance further to adapt to the needs of certain fields or industries?
That’s a pretty broad question. I think one constantly needs to adapt to change. The market demands regard- ing communication-for instance, single USB, Ethernet, Wi-Fi and robustness-constantly change.
I think it’s a little bit comparable to Moore’s Law: Like when you have a computer in the 1950s that easily could fit into a classroom, and now the same capacity goes into our smartphone. Sort of the same thing applies to spec trometry. Our CEO, Benno Oderkerk, has the dream that one day we are part of delivering a spectrometer that will fit into a wearable item like a watch, and that it will monitor your health so that one day you’ll automati- cally get warned, ‘Hey, you’re getting a heart attack’ This requires miniaturizing spectrometers into wear- ables. We think that’s the future we’ll be heading to.
That’s really amazing. You gave us a great overview of this field in general. I’m wondering, how does Avantes see its role in the field of miniature spectroscopy?
I think I need to quote our mission statement, which is really broad, and that’s to enrich the lives of mankind. One way to achieve this is to constantly invest in product-innovation leadership, and we are constantly trying to find partners and customers with whom we can achieve the realization of beautiful products, which help to achieve this. So, we are looking for the customer who will make that watch so we can work together on that. And, with 20 years of experience, I’m pretty confident that we are capable of providing high quality products in the production volumes needed by these customers. So, we keep thinking with our customers, and we try to create new products-products really fit for use. That’s how we want to fit in into this field.