Interview by Will Soutter
In this Insights from Industry interview, Ken Cunningham from Avid Nano talks to AZoNano about their products and development ethos.
WS: First of all, can you give us a brief overview of Avid Nano and your products?
KC: We are manufacturers of high-end dynamic light scattering (DLS) systems used for the characterization of molecules and nano-particles such as proteins, peptides, micelles and colloidal dispersions.
Our products are extensively used by scientists in pharmaceutical and academic research for molecular/particle size measurement, aggregate detection, molecular weight measurement, purification, buffer screening and in QC environments.
WS: Avid Nano is still a relatively new company. What is the background behind the foundation of the company?
KC: As the chief designer of the Protein Solutions DynaPro and Viscotek 802DLS systems and then as a project manager for DLS products at Malvern Instruments, over a period of 16 years it became clear to me that a serious bottleneck to productivity and a source of negativity towards the technique of DLS in general was the requirement to use quartz glass sample cuvettes for low volume work, particularly in the protein crystallography market.
It was in the summer of 2009 that I conceived of a low volume disposable sample holder which led to the foundation of Avid Nano. We applied for a patent on the ‘BladeCell’ disposable sample holder design in early 2010 and launched the W130i DLS system in April of the same year. Our first ever sales order for a W130i system was received on 13th July 2010, from GlaxoSmithKline, UK.
5µl BladeCell concept led to the foundation of Avid Nano
WS: What are the main application areas of dynamic light scattering?
KC: Applications for DLS are widespread and myriad, from sub-nanometre molecules such as sugars and peptides, to proteins, micelles, viruses and polymers, to nano-materials, pigments and colloids. In fact, DLS can be used to measure the size of just about anything within the theoretical size range.
In practice, every manufacturer optimises their design for a chosen size range, which is 0.3nm to about 1um in diameter in the case of the W130i. The raison d’être of our system is to offer class leading performance in the bio-molecule / protein area with high sensitivity, low sample volume and the most versatile, user friendly package.
WS: DLS is a fairly well established technique – what makes Avid Nano’s instruments stand out from other offerings on the market?
KC: Undoubtedly it is the 5µl BladeCell which differentiates the W130i system the most from our main competitors. However the whole package offers real appeal beyond this one feature. Our latest i-Size 2.0 software is extremely clear, concise and easy to use with functional and accessible features including size, polydispersity, size distribution, molecular weight measurement and a handy concentration calculator utility which helps users understand how much material is required to make a useful measurement.
The system is also capable of utilizing a wide range of re-usable and disposable fluorescence and absorbance cuvettes in addition to low volume quartz flow cells for online DLS measurements in our developing chromatographic application.
WS: What kinds of customer will the BladeCell appeal most to?
KC: The first ever demo of the W130i was to an experienced user of DLS who liked the system a lot and led to a sale a few months later. This experience has been repeated time after time, so it is very clear that the unique convenience the BladeCell offers is especially appreciated by a certain type of user, namely the experienced one who likes the information obtained by DLS, but is tired of cleaning quartz cuvettes in between every measurement.
Whilst a significant number of our customers are new to DLS, about half are experienced users who are trading on to something new. We have been quite lucky that some customers do not even bother with a demo from other suppliers because they are simply not interested in cleaning cuvettes any more, which makes our life a bit easier sometimes.
Concentration Calculator utility
i-Size 2.0 software screenshot
WS: Are there any application areas for DLS enabled by Avid Nano’s technology which have not previously been explored?
KC: The chromatography (or online) application is a feature we have spent some time on and are beginning to make real progress with. The compact size of the W130i is undoubtedly an advantage where space between LC equipment is often very tight or when situated in a cold cabinet.
‘Online mode’ offers an alternative to traditional light scattering techniques for protein molecular weight measurement whilst providing simultaneous size and aggregate quantification information in ‘DLS mode’.
WS: How have your customers taken to the product and how would you rate overall satisfaction so far?
KC: By addressing the weaknesses of products I have worked with over the years, we have produced a very mature and rounded product with software which is really easy to use, a stable and reliable hardware platform and built-in versatility and convenience which makes the W130i an attractive proposition to everyone who tries it.
The testimonials and recommendations we receive from our customers send a very clear message that overall satisfaction is very good.
WS: What are the longer term plans for Avid Nano and what new products are in the pipeline?
KC: We are participating in a European 7th Framework funded consortium with other SMEs to develop new technology for the detection and quantification of nano-particles in the environment. Avid Nano’s work package involves development of hyper-sensitive DLS technology and an innovative micro-fluidic cartridge based sample handling solution.
Further down the development pipeline we have several interesting concepts and projects which will be released in phased stages over the course of the next few years.
WS: Where can we find more information about Avid Nano and your products?
KC: Obviously we have a significant presence on AZoNano and AZoM for anyone to browse and compare products. Our website at www.avidnano.com contains full product information including detailed specifications and technical notes.
There is also a series of videos on our YouTube channel which give you a real feel for the product and software.
Our network of friendly and knowledgeable distributors will all be delighted to hear from you. Finally we regularly sponsor and exhibit at academic and industry meetings all over the world, so if you see us come over and say hello!
About Ken Cunningham
After graduating from Coventry University (UK) in 1993 with a B.Eng (Hons) in Mechanical Engineering, Ken began work as a manufacturing engineer at the newly formed Anglo-American DLS manufacturing company, Protein Solutions Ltd. The company expanded rapidly throughout the 90’s with Ken being responsible for design and development of the entire product line of DLS systems.
Ken joined Viscotek Europe Ltd. (UK) in December 2004 to design and build a new DLS system, the '802DLS' and sold as a complementary product to their full range of gel permeation chromatography (GPC) systems. In a wider role at Viscotek, he conducted sales demonstrations, seminars and represented the company at industry events throughout the world.
After the acquisition by Malvern Instruments Ltd. (UK) of Viscotek Corporation in January 2008, Ken worked in the Nanometrics group at Malvern as a project manager on two DLS systems, the Zetasizer μV and the Zetasizer APS. The μV and APS are developments of DLS systems designed by Ken whilst working at Viscotek.
After leaving Malvern and a further period working as an independent consultant, Avid Nano Limited was incorporated in July 2009.