Electron diffraction for structural analysis – Unique opportunity for SNI network membersSNI INSight August 2021, Success Stories
ELDICO Scientific, a start-up that developed within the SNI network, has brought an electron diffraction instrument to market that can be used to analyze the 3D atomic structure of nanoscale materials. One of the first devices will be made available to the Electron Diffraction NWCH Innovation Platform (Innovationsplattform Electron Diffraction NWCH). ELDICO Scientific runs this platform together with the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area, and it can currently be used by a consortium of four members. The SNI is the consortium’s academic partner, allowing its network to access this promising technology.
Pioneering Nano Argovia project
The 3D structure of a chemical compound is fundamental to its function, but it isn’t always easy to obtain this information if substances don’t take crystalline form and aren’t of a particular size. This can change, however, as a sensational article in Angewandte Chemie showed in 2018. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/anie.201811318
Back then, Dr. Tim Grüne and an interdisciplinary team of scientists in the Nano Argovia A3EDPI project demonstrated that the diffraction patterns of electron beams are ideally suited to determining the 3D structure of tiny organic nanocrystals in powder form. While electron diffraction provided sufficient information to clarify the structure, the crystals were so small that X-rays and synchrotron radiation would not have produced satisfactory results. For this proof of concept, the researchers combined existing commercially available devices that were not optimized for measuring diffraction.
Numerous milestones achieved
ELDICO Scientific aims to change this. The start-up has developed an electron diffraction measuring device (electron diffractometer) specifically intended for crystallography applications. This fascinating journey began in May 2019 with the patent application, swiftly followed by the founding of the company in June 2019. Since then, ELDICO’s four founders – Dr. Gustavo Santiso-Quinones, Dr. Gunther Steinfeld, Nils Gebhardt and Dr. Eric Hovestreydt – have achieved a great deal.
ELDICO Scientific has secured capital exceeding four million Swiss francs from various private and institutional investors. Based in Aargau, the start-up has established an excellent advisory board with some of the world’s leading crystallographers. Accolades such as the Venture Kick Award 2020 and the R&D 100 Award reflect the team’s professional approach. Four new employees will look after technical development, sales, communication, and application services as they help the company to evolve.
First successful measurements
The team spent most of 2020 – the year of the coronavirus pandemic – realizing, calibrating and optimizing the instrument. By May 2021, they were ready to take their first measurements with the ELDICO ED-1 (its product name) to determine the 3D structure of a sample. ELDICO Scientific partnered with AXILON in Cologne (Germany) to build the diffractometer. AXILON is currently testing and improving it ahead of the official launch in August 2021.
As well as working on the diffractometer, the ELDICO team kept industry and academic experts informed of their plans, applications and results. “Since conferences were cancelled, we focused mainly on organizing a few webinars,” says Nils Gebhardt, CFO at ELDICO. “We arranged for numerous international experts to give talks and more than 200 people registered for each event. This indicates huge interest within the scientific community and shows that we are making an impact.”
There are also plenty of researchers in Northwestern Switzerland who would like to use electron diffraction without the laborious process of creating suitably sized crystals. And it doesn’t necessarily need to be used to determine the structure of unknown compounds. “With our instrument, we can examine a substance’s various crystal structures (polymorphism) or identify crystalline deposits in liquids – this could be relevant for quality control, for example. Our instrument can be used to analyze a whole range of samples – from geological mineral samples, to tiny molecules with potential pharmaceutical applications, to nanowires and other nanomaterials that have proven difficult to analyze using conventional crystallographic methods,” explains CEO Dr. Eric Hovestreydt.
Unique opportunity for the SNI network
SNI network members will soon be able to test this technology on their applications and discuss their questions with the experts from ELDICO. The SNI is the academic partner in a consortium of four partners from the region who have access to the ELDICO ED-1. Dr. Arianna Lanza, Application Scientist at ELDICO, will supervise the innovation platform. She came to the company from the Center for Nanotechnology Innovation (CNI@NEST) at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia in Pisa, Italy and has many years of experience in electron diffraction, nanocrystallography and structural elucidation.
All consortium partners can use the facility – they can use it themselves for larger projects (once they have received in-depth instruction) and commission smaller tasks via Dr. Lanza. “We are working on the basis that each consortium member will have around 40 measurement days,” explains Nils Gebhardt. “But it’s important that we are flexible, work together constructively and accommodate individual needs. We will share out the available measurement days so that everyone gets a turn.” It would be ideal if the resulting measurement data were published, but this is not a prerequisite for collaborating with ELDICO Scientific.
The diffractometer is expected to be set up and ready to use at Basel Area Business & Innovation in Allschwil by mid to late September 2021. The facility will later be moved from this temporary home to the GRID, the headquarters of the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area. “We are excited to see the projects to which we can contribute with this new technology,” says Eric Hovestreydt. “This innovation platform is a unique opportunity for us and our customers to learn from one another and to further develop electron diffraction in crystallography.”
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