A conversation with our CTO Dr. Hugo Pérez-Garza who has been leading the development of the award winning system.

DENSsolutions is one of this year’s winners of the Microscopy Today Innovation Award. At the 2020 Microscopy & Microanalysis Virtual Meeting, DENSsolutions Stream LPEM system has been recognized as one of the ten most innovative products of the year.

We interviewed CTO Dr. Hugo Pérez- Garza to learn exactly how the Stream system convinced the jury of its high degree of innovation that makes new scientific investigations possible. Below you will find a transcript of the video interview.

Congratulations on winning the award. Can you tell us how you felt when you first heard the news?

It was great to hear that we were selected as the innovation of the year. This is something that confirms not only the level of innovation that the team has been bringing up, but it also helps us to confirm our leading position in the market. So it’s been really great.

Who were the people you first shared the news with?

As you can imagine, the first people that I shared this with were the R&D team members. As soon as I heard about this innovation award, I immediately called for a meeting so that I could tell everyone about it. None of this would have been possible without the ongoing effort of everyone within the R&D team. So they were the ones who deserved to know first. And of course, to me, it’s been a privilege to have the chance to lead what I consider as a world class R&D team.

Can you tell us about the innovative aspects that made it earn the reward?

Yes, this is all thanks to the different components that make up the Stream system. We’ve got the nano cell, the holder, our pressure based pump and of course the hardware that allows us to introduce the stimuli.

The nano-cell has a patented design that allows us to have on-chip inlet and outlet so that we can have a well-defined microfluidic path. We have the holder that has a modular design so that you can disassemble the tip at any point, do some thorough washing, you can put the tip in a sonicator, and because you can remove the tip, you can also replace the inner tubing at any point so that you can prevent cross contamination or clogging. And then we have the pump that, as opposed to current solutions that are out there which rely on a syringe pump that only pushes the liquid via the speed of the stepper motor, in our case, we can control the actual pressure of the liquid. So because we can combine this with our current nano-cell, by independently controlling pressure at the inlet and outlet, we can control the absolute pressure inside of the fluidic channel and therefore enjoy a very well-defined, pressure driven flow. And then we have the heating control unit and the potentiostat that allows us to introduce either the heating or biasing capabilities.

Why did you guys develop this system to start with?

Before the Stream system, we used to work with the so-called Ocean system, which is the predecessor of the Stream. Back in those days, we started realizing, together with our customers, that one of the most important things to address was to prevent relying on diffusion as a way of getting the liquid into the region of interest where the window and the sample is located. So after discussing a lot with experts and people in the community, we realized that it was important to make sure that we wouldn’t be bypassing the chips in the so-called bathtub design, which is the same design that not only our predecessor system used to have, but also other systems out there are still relying on. So making sure that you can prevent the bypass of the chips, making sure that you can therefore control the mass transport was something that ultimately gives you the benefit of controlling the kinetics of your experiment at any point.

What are the main benefits of the system?

Because we can control not only the pressure and the flow, there’s a lot of things that basically start from that point onwards, which are the fact that since you can control the liquid thickness, you can control, for example, the possibility of avoiding the beam broadening effects that the electron beam typically suffers from when you are working in liquid. If you can achieve that, then that means that you can start providing meaningful electron diffraction capabilities, meaningful EELS capabilities. You can do elemental mapping in liquid. And the fact that we still preserve that flow and pressure control at any point allows you also to start getting other very important benefits, such as the capability to mitigate away unwanted bubbles. You can even dissolve the bubbles at any point, or you can flush away beam induced species.

So when you put it all together, it really results in a very strong system that addresses the main issues that the community has been facing. The modular design of the Stream holder allows for flexibility as it prevents cross contamination or clogging when changing experiments. The system allows you to have a reproducible flow through your region of interest at any point. And you can manipulate the sample environment to your own convenience as you are able to control all the parameters that are around it.

Who contributed to the development of this system?

You can imagine that the Stream system was the result of a multidisciplinary work. We had to call in our main expertises in-house. We see MEMS development as our core competence. But MEMS is something that is very complex, that involves different areas. So we have people with a lot of expertise on the mechanical engineering area, on the electrical engineering area, material sciences, physics, chemistry and biology. But of course, the system, as I mentioned before, is not only the MEMS, but also the holder, the pump. So there’s a lot of mechatronics development in there. You can imagine that, of course, there’s a lot of microfluidics fluid dynamics.

So overall, it was a highly multidisciplinary work that, together with the expertise and the advice that we got from our customers, allowed us to put it all into one strong system that is now being able to address many of the issues that they all had.

Are customers already working with the system?

Yeah, absolutely. Ever since the launching of the system, by now, we have a very good amount of systems that are installed in the field where people are working in all sorts of application. Like material sciences, life sciences and energy storage. And we see that this system has been able to take over the work that they attempted to do for many years before. But due to the limitations that their previous systems had, they were never able to achieve. Now, with the Stream system we see and we hear directly from the customers that they’re finally able to start speeding up with the research and the results that they always wanted to get. So it’s a great feeling for us to know that the value is really there.

Who are the people that will benefit most from this system?

Of course, the Stream system finds its applications in a wide variety of opportunities. On one side, people in material sciences, people interested in, for example, nucleation work, in chemical production processes where it is very important not only to control the kinetics, but also to control the temperature. That’s where the Stream system finds one of its core values. On life sciences of course, people who are interested in working with either fuel cell analysis or biomolecule analysis where it is very important to try to mimic as much as possible physiological conditions like 37 degrees of body temperature. Controlling the environment and keeping these samples in its native liquid environment. That, of course, opens up a lot of opportunities for people in these kind of fields. And people who are doing research on energy storage, for example, people trying to develop the next generation of batteries where it is really important to understand how the battery works. What are the best conditions to prevent, for example, dendrite growth that might lead to short circuit. People working on fuel cells, people working on corrosion. There’s really a wide variety of electrochemical applications where the Stream also brings some big added value.

Can you tell us something about what future developments lie ahead?

Despite the fact that our current Stream system is already addressing most of the important issues that the LPEM community wants to avoid, we still remain very self-critical on our own developments and we keep analyzing what the main areas of opportunities for our system still are. And by now, we have already identified additional steps that we can take further. So we’re working very hard on new developments that I think are going to be really exciting. So stay tuned, because in the upcoming months, we can expect some very nice announcements on future developments that are coming.

Thank you for reading, to learn more about our Stream system please follow the links below.

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