University spin-out expands its scope after pioneering US deal

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Technology developed by a Sheffield University spin-out has been taken up by a world-beating US business that develops equipment and software to boosts the performance of electron microscopes.

California-based Gatan Inc has signed a licensing agreement with Phase Focus for the Sheffield Digital Campus-based company’s Virtual Lens technology.

Phase Focus uses sophisticated computer software to analyse a battery of images recorded on electronic sensors, overcoming the limitations and imperfections of conventional lenses.

Its Virtual Lens is already being used in applications that include carrying out detailed measurements of commercially produced contact lenses and analysing living cells in laboratories without the need to stain them, which can affect the way they behave or even kill them.

The Virtual Lens also has the potential to radically increase the magnifying power of electron and X-ray miscroscopes, currently 25 times below theoretical limits.

Under the licensing agreement, Gatan and Phase Focus will jointly develop a range of products, including a Phase Focus Virtual Lens add-on for electron microscopes.

Once developed, the product will be marketed by Gatan using its worldwide sales and distribution network.

David Baynes is chief executive of Sheffield-based University spin-out funding specialist Fusion IP, one of the investors in Phase Focus.

He says Gatan is the best-placed company in the world to launch Phase Focus’s advanced technology into the significant electron microscope market.

The deal comes eight months after Phase Focus secured £3.2 million from investors led by the London-based Ombu Group to help it commercialise its technology.