Interview conducted by Will Soutter
In this interview, Dr. Mark R. Munch, president of Bruker Nano Surfaces and Bruker MAT Group, talks to AZoNano about the strategy behind the recent acquisition of Prairie Technologies, and how their optical fluorescence technology compliments Bruker Nano Surfaces' existing product lines.
WS: Bruker’s Nano Surfaces division recently acquired Prairie Technologies. To begin with, can you tell us the strategy behind this acquisition?
MM: Our strategy for the acquisition was based on four things. First, it opens new markets for the Bruker Nano Surfaces division. We have been seeing growth in optical fluorescence and life science, and those are nice market segments for us to go into to grow our microscopy portfolio.
The second reason is that it strengthens our position in life science overall. Bruker Nano Surfaces already has a significant presence in life science through our bio-AFM platforms and, with optical fluorescence microscopy being such a predominant tool in that field, it’s a really great addition to our portfolio.
The third reason is related to that combination of technologies. There is a lot of synergy between optical fluorescence microscopy and bio-AFM. For example, we have an optical integrated AFM—our BioScope Catalyst. Every Catalyst we sell ends up integrated with a fluorescence confocal microscope, so it’s a natural step to try and gain that capability ourselves.
The fourth reason is that we want to build on that synergy. We see that we can offer new ways to do experiments if we offer both capabilities. There is a lot of talk about correlative microscopy and combining results from more than one method. Not only can we do that, we can go beyond correlative microscopy and offer entirely new platforms for experimentation. We can imagine stimulus response measurements, for example, where we probe with an AFM and then watch the response optically.
So there are a lot of reasons behind the move into this space. These are the four main ones, and they are pretty compelling to us.
The Opterra Multipoint Scanning Confocal Microscope from Bruker's new Fluorescence Microscopy business (formerly Prairie Technologies)
WS: Can you tell us a bit about the technology and products that Prairie has to offer?
MM: Prairie’s technology is based on two main platforms: multi-photon microscopy and multipoint scanning confocal microscopy. There is a lot of specialization within those platforms, but it’s all really based on that.
Prairie Technologies pioneered the multi-photon microscopy space commercially. Prairie was the first to offer apparatus allowing two-photon research, and that is their main platform in terms of sales. More recently, they have moved into multipoint scanning confocal microscopy. Most people in the world are using spinning disk systems, but Prairie’s technology is based on laser galvanos, which offers some nice advantages over the spinning disk technologies.
Across both those areas, Prairie offers a lot in terms of photoactivation, allowing users to ablate certain regions or stimulate the occurrence of certain events. Most people would concur that Prairie has some great leading technology in that area, and that it is applicable across both multi-photon and multipoint scanning microscopy.
WS: What does this technology bring to Bruker Nano Surfaces, and how does it complement your existing product lines?
MM: Multiphoton microscopy is a dominant technique in neurobiology because it allows you to inspect much deeper into tissues, using much longer wavelengths. You can also select wavelengths with less scattering and still harness the multiphoton or two-photon excitation to excite the molecules effectively. This technique has proven very useful, and it complements our existing products nicely because we have been doing a lot of work with applications of AFM in neurobiology.
Multipoint scanning confocal microscopy is very useful in terms of live-cell imaging and picking up fast, dynamic events. Of course, that is also an area where AFMs are increasingly used, as well, with products such as our FastScan Bio. So the technology is certainly complementary in an application sense.
WS: How long has this acquisition deal been in the pipeline, and how did the discussion start?
MM: We started really studying the market in depth in 2012. A team here did a really deep survey into different segments of life science, and we started to get a grasp on what the real growth areas are and who had some leading capabilities in the space.
Coming out of 2012 and into early 2013, we then started acting on it in terms of specific conversations, and we spent a lot of time getting to know Prairie. That process then led to closing the acquisition in the fall, in September through October.
WS: Did you know from quite early in the process that life science in general, and fluorescence microscopy in particular, was the area you wanted to look at?
MM: Absolutely. As part of our strategy as far back as 2010-2011, we had targeted that space. In 2012 we started executing on that strategy, sorting out the detail of who to target, and Prairie stood out as an ideal match with their leading technology in that area.
WS: Bruker Nano Surfaces has launched a number of new products in the bioscience space recently, and this is a strong growth area for Bruker as a whole. Is this an indicator of increased market demand in this sector?
MM: For Bruker Nano Surfaces specifically, it definitely strengthens our position and offering in life science. We have had a lot of activity in that area recently, beginning with the launch of the FastScan Bio AFM, which is capable of imaging dynamic events in a way that AFMs traditionally haven’t been able to do. We’ve also made a lot of improvements to the Bioscope Catalyst optical integrated AFM.
Now we are adding the Prairie products. We just released the Opterra Multipoint Scanning Confocal Microscope at ASCB in December. We are contributing a lot to the life science market, and this acquisition represents a commitment to do more.
It’s not just our product lines, either. This acquisition is also about strengthening our applications knowledge, being able to address customer needs, and offering better solutions in life science. Bruker as a whole has always been very active in life science, from identifying protein crystallization structures to preclinical imaging, and all those areas of life science are still very strong. Bruker currently spans many dimensions in life science, from whole-animal imaging in preclinical studies, right down to studies on the cellular or even electrical level.
WS: Is Prairie Technologies fully integrated within Bruker as a division or business unit? Where do they sit within the structure of Bruker Nano Surfaces?
MM: Prairie is a wholly intact business unit within Bruker Nano Surfaces. That means that Prairie operates as it always has. Existing customers won’t notice a difference in responsiveness or customer service. Prairie has always been very responsive in terms of support, and also in terms of tailoring products to their customers’ needs, and that will continue.
Also, Prairie has always been very focused on North America. Being part of the Bruker Nano Surfaces division will enable them to offer their products to the rest of the world, as well, by leveraging our broader capabilities in sales, application support and service support. So customers will really see the best of both worlds, and Prairie will benefit from that as well.
WS: Bruker Nano Surfaces has conducted a number of acquisitions to bring in new product lines. Is this a longer term strategy for growth?
MM: The Bruker Nano Surfaces division does have a very strong business foundation from which to do acquisitions, but our primary objective is growing the businesses we have and delivering value to our customers.
If an opportunity arises, as it did with Prairie, and it makes sense strategically for us, we will certainly look at those opportunities. But we will only consider further acquisitions in certain special cases. Our strategy is really to focus on organic growth from this point on, not to target growth through acquisitions.
WS: It has been a few months since the acquisition now. What has the response been, both internally and from customers, now that Prairie is settled in as part of Bruker?
MM: The response from all sides has been very positive. It’s a great acquisition and a great fit. We’ve had very positive comments already from both sides of the customer base, from Prairie’s existing customers and from our AFM users, and that’s always very encouraging to see.
About Mark Munch
Dr. Mark R. Munch, Ph.D. is President of Bruker Nano, Inc. and Bruker MAT Group, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bruker Corp.
Dr. Munch has served since September 2012 as President of Bruker MAT Group, with responsibility for management of the global operations of the company Bruker MAT Group, which manufactures and distributes the company's advanced analytical X-ray technologies and spark-optical emission spectroscopy, atomic force microscopy and stylus and optical metrology instrumentation used in non-destructive molecular, materials and elemental analysis. Dr. Munch has also served as President of Bruker Nano, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Company, since October 2010.
Prior to joining Bruker Nano, Inc., from February 2008 to October 2010, Dr. Munch was Executive Vice President of Veeco Instruments Inc. Dr. Munch has also served as a Senior Vice President of Coherent, Inc. from February 2006 to January 2008 and as President and Chief Executive Officer of Cooligy, Inc., a subsidiary of Emerson Electric, from 2004 to 2006.
Dr. Munch's background includes over 23 years of experience in marketing, product development, operations and sales, as well as experience in managing business units of multi-national corporations.
Dr. Munch holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Colorado and a Master of Science degree and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University.