The move to the life sciences market
was somewhat fortuitous. We were
fortunate to get an opportunity with
a local firm to develop a laser source
for a spinning disk confocal instrument. The project helped us to realize
that the skills we used to develop space
optics and remote sensing instruments
were well suited to the development of
In fact, many of the technologies
applied to microscopy today have their
roots in astronomy. After all, the same
high-sensitivity camera technology that
is currently used to image cells was first
developed for viewing stars. And the
localization methods now used in super-resolution microscopy also have their
roots in positioning stars.
Spectral has been successful in bringing new insight to the field. Microscopy
traditionally made extensive use of wide-band sources such as halogen bulbs, arc
lamp sources and, more recently, LEDs.
Lasers have also become prevalent. In
fact, they are practically necessary for a
number of the newer applications, such
as confocal scanning microscopy and
total internal reflectance fluorescence
Laser technology has moved from
large gas lasers to much smaller and less
expensive solid-state ones, which offer a
greater range of powers and wavelengths.
Spectral was one of the earliest companies to package up to five lasers in a
single enclosure; that made it easy for
researchers to dial in the wavelength and
power they required through software
control. Today, nearly all laser illumination is done this way.
Fiber coupling allows lasers to be
located remotely from the experiment
and to be interfaced in a much less
invasive manner. In most applications,
single-mode fiber is used to couple the
laser light to the microscope. Such fibers
have core sizes of only 3 µm, which
make them difficult to use and maintain.
Spectral advances the use of much more
robust multimode fibers for microscopy.
One product of particular importance
is Borealis, which is a modification of
Richard Berman The MOST space telescope during a test integration.
What customers want
and what they need
are often different—
but, ideally, you want
to give them both.
Then be ruthless in
as to whether you are
really delivering what
the highly regarded Yokogawa confocal spinning disk, CSU. Through the
careful application of multimode fibers,
the Borealis design created a more robust
product that also improves the performance of a class-leading imaging device.
In the case of the CSU, total throughput,
excitation uniformity and wavelength
options all improved through the use of
Spectral has grown to include 25 employees. The team remains focused on finding new technologies and in some cases
borrowing old ones and applying them
to the rapidly changing world of microscopy research.
We have learned that the customers’
needs must come before a technology
push. It is critical to find out what your
end users really need and want. We find
what they want and what they need are
often different—but, ideally, you want
to give them both. You must be ruthless
in your self-assessment as to whether you
are really delivering what you claim.
Spectral actively seeks collaborations
with researchers to explore new ideas or
to define requirements for future instruments. With the advances in life science
research growing at ever-increasing speed,
there seems to be unending potential
for innovation. We feel fortunate to be
contributing to a field that includes so
many dedicated researchers working
towards a greater good. The strong force
of competition only helps to accelerate
the pace of progress.
Moving forward, Spectral is looking
to develop increasingly sophisticated
designs for the life science market and
to penetrate overseas markets. Longer
term we are looking at moving into the
After 11 years in business and many
lessons learned along the way, Spectral
has shown that good science can become
the foundation for good business. t
Richard Berman ( email@example.com) is the
CEO of Spectral Applied Research and one of
the company’s founders.