Relocation from Hesse - Nascatec GmbH now develops and produces sensors for micro- and nanoanalysis in the STERN BioRegion
Nanosensors for life sciences
As a world market leader in high-resolution optical near-field microscopy, the company develops and produces high-tech solutions in the micro-systems technology and nanoanalysis sectors. Whether for industry or research, Nascatec products are deployed in all fields of nano- and microtechnology.
Both the ESA¹s Rosetta mission and NASA¹s Stardust mission are equipped with Nascatec sensors. Its prestigious client portfolio also includes SEIKO, Seagate, Motorola, SAAB, BASF and Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office.
While Nascatec products were previously used mainly in aerospace technology, the company is now strengthening its focus on biotechnology. Relocating to the STERN BioRegion in Baden-Württemberg lays the foundations for this.
The first piezoresistive AFM (atomic force microscope) sensor, which Nascatec developed for the high-resolution Midas atomic force microscope in collaboration with the European Space Agency ESA, will make contact with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014. As one of eleven instruments on board the European "Rosetta" space probe, it will take a close look at the fine structure of the tiny dust particles from 67P. The integrated Nascatec nanoscale measuring instrument is able to probe the surface of the dust particles to investigate their magnetic and electrical properties and determine their composition. Its three-dimensional images provide material for further scientific analyses. The ten-year voyage over seven billion kilometres will mark a new milestone in celestial body research. ESA scientists expect new findings on the creation of life on Earth - after all, comets are the remains of the primeval mist from which the solar system was formed around 4.6 billion years ago.
In just four years, electrical engineer Dr. Tomasz Debski and physicist Wolfgang Barth developed a sensor suitable for the Rosetta mission which recently hit initial headlines with its fly-by of the red planet Mars. The European Rosetta project was the subject of doctoral work by the founders of Nascatec at the University of Kassel. Debski and Barth took the bold step of founding their own company when the sensor technology was still in the development phase, with the ESA as their first customer and start-up capital from the business plan competition "Promotion Nordhessen". Since then, the spin-off company from Kassel University has specialised in micro-systems technology and nanoanalysis. Optical and mechanical sensors from Nascatec can analyse surfaces in the nanometre range. Other products include microgrippers that can be used to control and work on nanotechnology components and processes.
As Debski and Barth have successfully developed a niche market, they have so far managed with virtually no external capital. Nascatec has developed not only the first piezoresistive AFM sensors but also the world¹s first SNOM sensor based on cantilever technology that analyses surfaces using optical measurement. "Cantilevers are micro-beams that need to be imagined as record player needles," says Barth. "Though they create images rather than sound."
As with the transition from record to CD, there has been a move in physics from mechanical to optical surface analysis, which is the "tool par excellence" in the life science sector. A hole - 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a hair - in a hollow, conical "record player needle" not only creates special optical effects, it also extends hitherto known resolution limits.
Nascatec is looking to pursue completely new avenues in 2007. While it has so far concentrated on nanosensor technology for inorganic materials, the two managing directors now wish to expand their product portfolio and focus increasingly on the life science sector. "Enquiries from the industry are so numerous that we are looking to further develop our nanoanalysis solutions for investigating organic surface properties in biotechnology," says Wolfgang Barth. Baden-Württemberg offers exactly the right environment, which made it logical to relocate the company¹s headquarters to the STERN BioRegion. They found perfect conditions in terms of laboratory equipment, scientific environment and funding at the STEP Engineering Park in Stuttgart-Vaihingen, where Nascatec has been based since November 2006.
Around Euro 160,000 of direct project funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) nanobiotechnology joint project and the spacious cleanroom capacity used in collaboration with the University of Stuttgart ensure proximity to research and create the perfect platform for establishing the company on the life science market. The managing directors have already made contacts with the industry - now it is largely a matter of exploiting the potential of nanomodules for the life science sector. Involvement in the BMBF joint project aims at developing an optical near-field microscope to examine membrane proteins in living cells, says Barth.
Nascatec found perfect support from BioRegio STERN Management GmbH and their new bank. "It was clear to the advisors at the Kreissparkasse in Böblingen that we cannot wait ten years with our technology but need immediate backing," says Dr. Debski referring to additional co-financing through European collaborations and BMBF projects. In the joint BMBF RoboMat project, Nascatec is developing various innovative sensors for microrobots to determine micromaterial properties. By using networks, particularly BioRegio STERN Management GmbH, Nascatec is pushing for greater expansion in the life science sector. Inspired by the move to Stuttgart, Barth and Debski are now considering initial foreign branches in the U.K. and U.S. "With the enlarged cleanroom capacity, life science infrastructure and airport links on the doorstep, we have the perfect springboard here to achieve our new goals," says Debski.
Nanoscale Technologies GmbH, or Nascatec for short, was founded as a spin-off of the Institute for Microstructure Technology and Analysis (IMA) of the University of Kassel by managing directors Dr. Tomasz Debski, an electrical engineer, and physicist Wolfgang Barth in 2000. The high-tech company develops and produces sensors to control and work on nanotechnology components and processes in aerospace technology and life sciences. Nascatec collaborated with the European Space Agency ESA to produce the first piezoresistive AFM sensors for the Rosetta space mission. The first SNOM sensor based on cantilever technology was also developed. The core business is the development, prototype production and manufacture of SPM/AFM sensors, SNOM sensors and micro-nanomanipulators for applications in research and development, surface characterisation, process controls and biotechnology.
Nascatec has access to professional research and development facilities, a 400 m2 cleanroom, a variety of standard CMOS processes and technologies and innovative coating and structuring facilities from state-of-the-art micro-and nanotechnology. Nascatec GmbH currently has six employees.
About BioRegio STERN Management GmbH
BioRegio STERN Management GmbH is a skill-sharing network, providing a help and advice centre for founders of new businesses, entrepreneurs and researchers in the biotechnology sector in the region comprising Stuttgart, Tübingen, Esslingen, Reutlingen and Neckar-Alb in Germany. BioRegio STERN promotes cooperation between different disciplines such as medicine, process engineering, sensor technology, dietetics, biochemical analysis and bioinformatics. Regeneration biology is a key area of focus.
BioRegio STERN represents the interests of founders of new businesses, entrepreneurs and researchers when dealing with the political sector, the media and associations, coordinates economic promotional activities and marketing and provides advice for grant applications and corporate financing, all backed up with efficient press and public relations work.
BioRegio STERN is supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of its "BioProfile" promotional programme, the Stuttgart and Neckar-Alb regional authorities and the municipal authorities of Stuttgart, Tübingen, Esslingen and Reutlingen. The Managing Director, Dr.
Klaus Eichenberg, is a molecular and cell biologist and investment analyst.