Credit: LIST

On Thursday 22 February 2024, the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) announced the commercial launch of magSIMS (a Magnetic Sector Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry system), an award-winning nano-imaging instrument, during an event at the institute’s Belval campus.

The occasion also marked the opening of a joint lab and the signing of a licensing contract between LIST and Raith, a prominent German manufacturer specialising in precision technology for nanofabrication, to undertake the commercialisation of magSIMS.

The magSIMS is an innovative instrument developed by LIST researchers, which can view objects in the minutest details, and also simultaneously produce their chemical composition information.

According to LIST, understanding the structure and chemical composition at the nanometre scale is crucial across various fields, including batteries, electronics, biology and functional materials. This level of analysis allows for detailed examination, which is required, for instance, when designing new electronic devices, developing new photovoltaic materials or studying sub-cellular structures in biology.

In materials science, the magSIMS can be widely used for nano-characterisation. It enables the analysis of complex 3D architectures. In photovoltaics, it helps in understanding the composition of thin films crucial for the performance and longevity of solar cells. In life sciences, it allows high-resolution chemical analysis of biological samples. Beyond materials and life sciences, magSIMS finds applications in soil science, geology and even cultural heritage analysis.

A success story made in Luxembourg more than a decade in the making

The history of the technology behind magSIMS goes back a decade. “Our initial exploration focused on the feasibility of obtaining chemical information with the highest sensitivity at the nano level,” says Dr Tom Wirtz, Head of Unit, Scientific Instrumentation and Process Technology at LIST. “This led us to consider ion and electron microscopy combined with mass spectrometry as a key aspect.

In conventional electron microscopy, one can observe minuscule entities at the nano level using specialized instruments. “The challenge then was to introduce an additional dimension to this capability, which involves incorporating chemical information,” he added. The objective was not only to visualise the appearance of a sample but also to discern its composition.

This led to the development of a mass spectrometer: a technology that allows scientists to identify specific elements based on their distinct masses. The resulting nanoimaging instrument became the first microscope able to view samples in tiny details while simultaneously determining their chemical composition. The research and the technology won national and international accolades.

From lab to the market: partnership between LIST and Raith

Through various collaborations over the years, multiple companies adopted LIST’s technology, leading to the installation of the instrument on numerous microscopes worldwide. However, large-scale manufacturing was still limited. “While interest from the industry was evident, the production of the instrument remained with us at LIST as the demand from individual companies wasn't large enough,” says Wirtz.

Now, however, the signing of the licensing and partnership agreement with Raith, a prominent German manufacturer specialising in precision technology for nanofabrication, has opened up the potential to manufacture the instrument, thereby expanding its accessibility and adoption on a broader scale.

Raith has actively collaborated with LIST over the past two years to identify and define advancements in the field of nano-analytics that are mutually beneficial,” says Wirtz. “Today, they intend to form a global partnership focusing not only on the establishment of a joint laboratory and common research and development projects but also on manufacturing the instrument as a product for broader distribution and on providing worldwide maintenance of these instruments after they are installed.”

Talking about the instrument and the partnership with Raith, Dr Damien Lenoble, Director of the materials department at LIST, said: “The partnership and subsequent commercialisation of magSIMS represent significant achievements for LIST and Luxembourg, as the technology will be now deployed worldwide thanks to our trusted partner Raith. This perfectly illustrates LIST’s core mission of leveraging early-stage research to develop unique capabilities and enhance the maturity of proprietary technologies over time. The impending changes in technologies, particularly those driving transitions in sectors such as energy, consumer electronics and mobility, make magSIMS particularly attractive as a versatile instrumentation tool. We are especially pleased to have consistently supported this research-based innovation until it reached market readiness for widespread adoption.