Wageningen University spin-off Surfix is going to commercialise two innovative nano-coating technologies that have been developed and patented by the university. The two patents, to which Surfix now owns the rights, were approved in the United States in July 2013. One other patent request is pending in the US. The same three requests have been submitted in Europe.
Mild surface modification
Surfix develops nano-coatings for a wide variety of micro- and nano-technological applications. These coatings selectively modify the properties of surfaces. For instance, nano-coatings can attract certain chemical components while repelling others. The recently patented technologies – the result of PhD research done by various people at the Laboratory for Organic Chemistry – enables surface modification under mild circumstances, using UV-radiation or warmth.
Applying fundamental knowledge
Surfix was founded in 2011 by Luc Scheres, with the help of a couple of investors. In 2010, Scheres received his PhD degree cum laude at Wageningen University’s Laboratory for Organic Chemistry and now the director of Surfix already employs four people. The talented researcher explains why he decided to start his own business: “By focusing on one specific subject for a number of years, one brings its knowledge on that matter to a very high level. That has to result in something. Fundamental and applied academic research is the foundation of Surfix. Now we try to find commercial applications for that knowledge.”
Unique because of patents
“Surfix develops coatings for all kinds of applications”, says Scheres. Having two – and hopefully soon three – technologies patented is an important step for the innovative techno-starter. Scheres: “Patenting technologies in the US and Europe costs a lot of time and money, but it makes Surfix unique.”
Up-scaling innovative technology
On a small scale, the patented technologies of Surfix are ‘mature’, according to Scheres. “The next step is to apply high-quality coatings on large surfaces, like entire wafers, for example.” When Scheres speaks about ‘large surfaces’ he means areas of about ten square centimetres. His line of work is all done on nano-scale. Nano-coatings are no thicker than a few nanometres (one millionth millimeter) and cannot be seen with the naked eye. Surfix’ ultrathin coatings are mainly applied on very small chips that are used to measure chemical components on a molecular level.
“Every substrate and every chip is different and therefore requires another custom-made solution”, tells Scheres. “We have the knowledge to quickly develop and apply the required chemistry. We also develop techniques to locally, on a very small area, apply one coating that attracts a component, such as antibodies or bacteria, while the surface around this area is provided with a repelling coating. For bio-sensing, for instance, this is essential.”
Literally close to Wageningen University
About the connection with Wageningen University the Surfix director is clear: “The relationship is excellent. We work in very close collaboration and we pay the university to make use of its facilities. Surfix is literally located upstairs from the Laboratory for Organic Chemistry. They often knock on our door with questions and we learn a lot from them as well. There is a very good interaction and we work together in a number of research projects. However, not in commercial projects. Those require secrecy. Companies that hire us to develop new innovations obviously don’t want to share that knowledge with competitors.”