Light affects all aspects of our lives, from how our food grows, or when we sleep and wake up, to how we create energy and communicate with each other.
The ability to manipulate light–specifically light waves–offers many new applications and improvements in our day-to-day lives. Photonics is the science that allows us to do this.
Canadians may associate photonics with enhancements to mobile phones and LED lighting, but photonics also plays a key role in boosting the capabilities, accuracy and speed of conventional technologies. This has led to widespread advances in medical imaging, security technologies, communications, transportation, manufacturing, and a host of other industries.
In Alberta, Yonathan Dattner recognized photonics for its use beyond the communications sector. He formed an Alberta-based company to participate in the global trend of using photonics to solve industry challenges and revolutionize traditional technologies. For example, he saw potential to use photonics for data measurement in ways that could help Canada's energy industry and governments reach their carbon reduction goals.
In pursuit of that opportunity, Dattner co-founded LUXMUX Technology Corporation in 2011 with his University of Calgary professor Orly Yadid-Pecht. Within a year, the company realized they would need help building a viable business and turned to the expertise of the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP).
Moving on up
LUXMUX started out renting workspace in a university lab. Within a year, the company moved to shared office space with another Canadian company, Agar Canada, through which Dattner secured initial capital and a joint partnership to develop his new product. With the base technology and an initial market in mind, Dattner sought NRC IRAP support to develop first prototypes of photonic solutions. The firm met with Dr. Moïse Ndoh, an NRC IRAP industrial technology advisor (ITA), who helped Dattner define the scope of the project.
"NRC IRAP's contribution made it possible for LUXMUX to gain momentum," said Dattner. "Without it, we couldn't have done as much research and development (R&D), which would mean fewer products and less hiring."
LUXMUX needed a powerful light source for its prototype. Although many light sources existed, none were cost effective, small or powerful enough to integrate with LUXMUX's technology.
With NRC IRAP support, LUXMUX hired more engineers and relocated to a bigger facility to develop a proprietary light source called BeST-SLED. BeST-SLED was recognized industry-wide as a finalist at the 2017 PRISM Awards, the global Oscars of photonics. As a result, Alberta Innovates and Sustainable Development and Technology Canada backed the development of BeST-SLED for use in the oil and gas industry.
"I see NRC IRAP as a LUXMUX team member that 'invests' in de-risking innovation for our company through advice, networking, business direction, and support for technology research and development," said Dattner.
For a third NRC IRAP project, LUXMUX evolved its BeST-SLED into a tunable laser. A tunable laser provides controlled ways to alter the laser's wavelength, even during operation. Small shifts in output wavelength are possible with all lasers, but only a few allow continuous tuning over a significant wavelength range. That kind of control presents opportunities for instantaneous measurement and analysis in the biomedical, telecommunications, energy and environment sectors, as well as uses in academic labs and other research institutions.
Agar licensed LUXMUX's photonics solutions for oil and gas applications. The companies jointly developed products that monitor steam quality, measure oil in water, and measure greenhouse gas emissions. Those products also serve as a revenue stream for LUXMUX to evolve its technologies and position itself uniquely to service global markets from Canada.
The final analysis
"NRC IRAP and Moïse had a positive impact on our shift from an R&D team to a revenue-generating business," said Dattner. "Moïse visits regularly for more than projects. He helped us with intellectual property and business strategies, influenced our corporate culture, and advised us on ways to structure LUXMUX."
After a number of NRC IRAP-supported projects between 2012 and 2018, LUXMUX increased its staff fivefold, filed 5 patents, created 5 products, signed licensing deals, won industry awards, and consistently increased revenues year after year.
Dattner describes NRC IRAP's involvement as, "running deep and opening connections across the ecosystem" – assistance that reshapes what companies can achieve.