Research Complex spin-off has spin-off benefits

Professor Pavel Matousek

A spin-off company set up by Professor Pavel Matousek, STFC Senior Fellow within STFC’s Central Laser Facility (CLF) , and his colleagues (including Professor Tony Parker, also from CLF) that was originally based at Research Complex is coming back to the Harwell campus, and will create new opportunities for further collaboration as well as for employment.

Pavel’s particular interest lies in non-invasive diagnostics based on spatially offset Raman spectroscopy (SORS) and transmission Raman spectroscopy (TRS). It was research in this field at CLF that led the team to set up a spin-off company, Cobalt Light Systems, in 2008, to commercialise SORS and TRS technology. These technologies enable substances, whether solid or liquid, to be identified non-intrusively through packaging – hard plastic containers, glass containers, multi-layer paper and plastic sacking. More than 30 pharmaceutical companies worldwide use the TRS technique in quality control, to inspect finished products and incoming raw materials by intact means. In addition Cobalt scanners are deployed at more than 75 airports worldwide to scan liquids in bottles, to check that no prohibited substances are present and the content is safe (e.g. baby milk and medicine).

In 2017, Cobalt was bought by Agilent for £40 million. Currently in Milton Park, near Didcot it will soon relocate to the Harwell campus. This will then be Agilent’s global centre for Raman spectroscopy.

Pavel says: ‘Because they will be so close, there’s potential for further engagement with the company.’

The advantage of proximity also holds for research within Research Complex itself. Says Pavel: ‘I’m a physicist, but I can interact with chemists, biologists and mathematicians here. And having access to facilities both here in Research Complex and also on the wider STFC and Harwell campus allows me to run multi-disciplinary projects. I’ve got other research collaborations that exploit non-invasive techniques – in medicine and in art restoration, for example.

‘It’s very special here. Research Complex provides a unique window into the universe – observations that are not available to others. Sometimes we can derive benefits from other groups’ observations. We come across unique features and realise how they can be used elsewhere.’