CloudSpec innovator receives funding boost for new spectroscopy instrument

Victoria University of Wellington physicist Brendan Darby has received a $25,000 grant from KiwiNet to assess the impact of CloudSpec, a new technology that has the potential to change the way industry analyses ‘cloudy’ solutions.

The CloudSpec team at the Raman Lab at Victoria's School of Chemical and Physical Sciences. (L-R) Professor Eric Le Ru, Matthias Meyer and Brendan Darby.

The grant from the KiwiNet Emerging Innovator Fund is awarded to help early career scientists develop clever new ideas and work closely with business to take them to market.

Mr Darby and the team at the Raman Lab at Victoria’s School of Chemical and Physical Sciences are experts in spectroscopy—a technique used to identify the chemicals that make up a substance.

Together they are developing CloudSpec, a next generation spectroscopy instrument that allows cloudy or opaque liquids to be analysed quickly and efficiently. Cloudy liquids typically require multiple steps to analyse via traditional spectroscopy techniques. CloudSpec promises a transformational impact in substance analysis by significantly simplifying the process.

CloudSpec has potential applications in a range of industries including quality assurance for food, beverage and water, plus enhancement of forensics testing.

Conventional absorption spectroscopy works by shining a spectrum of light through the sample and monitoring which colours get transmitted, and which are absorbed. This traditional spectroscopy technique becomes ineffective when a sample solution is cloudy or opaque and contains large particulates that scatter light in all directions. This makes it difficult to extract information about the sample.

“At the core of CloudSpec is a new hardware configuration and novel processing techniques that are being designed to be impervious to light scattering. Our new instrument enables cloudy or turbid solutions such as milk, paint, blood, wastewater and algal suspensions, to produce equivalent results to traditional analysis methods without the need for time consuming processing of samples,” says Mr Darby.

“Consequently, we can reduce the number of expensive instruments, processing steps and preparation time required to analyse products. In the food and beverage industry current processes can degrade the integrity of the product whereas CloudSpec won’t compromise it.”

Originally from Ireland, Mr Darby completed his PhD through the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, supervised by Professor Eric Le Ru, earlier this year.

“Professor Le Ru’s infectious passion for science created a fantastic environment for discovery and it was in his lab that the idea for CloudSpec was born. KiwiNet is now enabling us to take the technology from the lab to industry by providing the KiwiNet Emerging Innovator funding, expertise and networks,” says Mr Darby.

Professor Le Ru says the support from KiwiNet is also fostering Brendan’s entrepreneurial skills in the commercialisation space as a young scientist. “He’s very excited by the prospect of beginning his career in science playing a key role in developing a potentially game changing product.”

The KiwiNet Emerging Innovator Fund, established thanks to the generous support of the Norman F.B. Barry Foundation, is available to early career researchers based at universities and Crown Research Institutes across New Zealand who demonstrate a clever new idea and a willingness to work closely with industry as they develop a prototype. Recipients also receive expert legal advice from KiwiNet corporate partners, MinterEllisonRuddWatts and IP advice from Baldwins.

This is the third of 10 grants made possible by a donation from the Norman F.B. Barry Foundation.

In addition to funding, KiwiNet provided Mr Darby with a mentor, Clive Seymour formerly of Bruker Daltonics, who shared his expertise in scientific instrumentation, invaluable industry contacts and significant experience working with multinational companies.

Phil Stucki, KiwiNet Commercial Projects Manager, observed the transformational impact the KiwiNet Emerging Innovator programme had for Mr Darby.

“Brendan’s passion for science is now matched with a tremendous enthusiasm for the business-side of taking research to market,” he says. “Winning the fund and its associated suite of benefits, has given him a significant understanding of the commercialisation process. He now brings a whole new skill set to his science team.”