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University-affiliated startup revolutionizes the electron beam

Chunichi Shimbun

A Nagoya University-affiliated venture firm has created a next-generation electron beam device, signaling a landmark shift in the way electron microscopes and 3-D printers operate.

Equipped with a semiconductor jointly developed by a research team led by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Hiroshi Amano of Nagoya University, the new device is much smaller in size and more durable than its conventional counterparts. The firm hopes to utilize the device to develop cutting-edge measuring instruments and machinery tools in further collaboration with Amano’s team.

Photo Electron Soul Inc. is a startup co-founded in July by Tomohiro Nishitani, a lecturer in Nagoya University, and Takayuki Suzuki, the university’s former technology transfer manager.

Frequently used for appliances, such as tube televisions and microwaves, electron beams emit heat and light as well as combine substances upon colliding with solid-state matter.

As such, they are helpful to melt and mold material in 3-D printing. Electron microscopes, meanwhile, use a beam of electrons as a source of illumination to observe the structure of objects.

The device developed by Photo Electron Soul is unique in that its semiconductor, which generates electrons, has adopted gallium nitride co-developed by Amano’s research team. This has resulted in drastic improvements in its durability, more than 20 times higher than the current version.

It has become much smaller, too, as opposed to its bulky predecessors that used to occupy a whole room. The device now sits atop a desk, small enough to be incorporated into measuring instruments and manufacturing tools.

Another characteristic of the device is the power of its electron beams.

When applied to 3-D printing technology, their concentrated irradiation can achieve the most meticulous modeling of metals, developers say.

If used for electron microscopes, the beams — at least theoretically — can shorten the recess time necessary between each observation to less than 0.1 seconds from the current 30 minutes. This is because the device will allow users to observe an object responding to beams on a real-time basis, a landmark development that developers hope will improve the efficiency of drug-discovery research.

Photo Electron Soul has not only won permission from Nagoya University, which has patents for the device, to utilize the fruits of its research, but it received loans from state-affiliated bank Japan Finance Corporation last month. Emboldened by these moves, the company has launched a full-fledged operation of the project.

“Nagoya University has researched electron beams for nearly 30 years now and it has world-class technological prowess in that field. We not only aspire to become a successful venture company but make an impact on industries worldwide,” Suzuki, who serves as president of the startup, said.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Oct. 22.