Why Nobel laureates choose scientific equipment made in Brabant
Few companies have provided scientific equipment to a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, yet Thermo Fisher Scientific electron microscopes have been used by two winners.
Additionally, the two winners using Thermo Fisher Scientific equipment arrived in less than a decade. In 2011, Dan Shechtman received the award for proving the existence of quasicrystals. While in 2017, Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson were jointly rewarded for their work on the developments of cryo-electron microscopy.
Despite these global achievements, Thermo Fisher Scientific remains close to where it was originally founded and is even expanding its Eindhoven plant. The company recently announced that it would expand this site by 1,100 m2 to increase its production capacity by 20%.
Thermo Fisher Scientific has its origins in the province of Brabant as far back as 1959, when it was initially part of Phillips Electronics and produced electron microscopes, then later moved into electron optics.
On site these days, Thermo Fisher Scientific designs and develops electron microscopy technologies capable of obtaining high-resolution visualization of molecular structures down to the picometer scale, much smaller than the nanometer. Indeed, the first images of the proteins that make up the coronavirus were obtained using electron microscopy devices from Thermo Fisher Scientific. The technology is also being used to improve Alzheimer’s disease research.
According to Maurits Smits, Thermo Fisher Scientific’s R&D manager for high-end transmission electron microscopes, the Nobel laureates provided critical information to advance the technology.
“What we love about Nobel laureates is that they play a key role in shaping research into the future for the world,” says Smits. “They are ready to tell us what they really want from a different system. Two opinion leaders may come to us with different demands. We always help and support our customers, and if so, try to help them as best we can, because we don’t know who the next Nobel laureate will be. The real winner is the capabilities we want to deliver.
Advancing technology through collaboration and talent
For Thermo Fisher Scientific to develop and build complex machines, collaborations are of fundamental importance – and this is where Brabant and the Eindhoven region excel.
At the center of the collaboration in Brabant is Brainport, where high technology and advanced design meet high-end manufacturing. Brainport brings together experts from technology, manufacturing, business, and world-class technical universities to share knowledge, ideas, and resources to accelerate technology development in a mutually beneficial way.
“If you look at our development field, we use so many developers and R&D people outside our own company in the Eindhoven base than we use internally in our own company,” adds Smits.
“We need this ecosystem to be able to answer questions from researchers about what we are doing for them. We empower them to do top-notch research or analysis. Therefore, they need our machines, and we can only provide them because our ecosystem offers the high-level subsets to make that possible.
“If you look at our electron microscopes, most are – in principle – built to order and that means top researchers or institutes come to us to discuss and work out together what the next core capability of the machine should be. Then we find out how this is possible and how we can develop this for the key opinion leaders who will carry out the research projects.
Smits explains how companies operating in the Brabant region such as VDL-ETG, Philips and ASML all require systems engineering to connect high-level subassemblies to build larger systems or complex machines.
“That kind of knowledge is very concentrated in the Brainport area,” adds Smits.
Brainport is very effective in attracting both business and talent. Career development opportunities are all concentrated in a fairly restricted area. While workers moving to Brabant can head to leading chip-equipment maker ASML, Smits suggests this presents opportunities for other organizations as well.
“What you see is in the wake of people coming to ASML, their partners also need a job and they may not want to work in the same place, and therefore partners may be who we work with” , did he declare. said.
Smits describes how Thermo Fisher Scientific provides a diverse career opportunity in the high-tech sector by contributing to a range of different industries. As Smits says, there’s also the prospect of working on technologies that will make a positive difference in people’s lives. In addition, the internal structure of the company offers clear paths for career progression.
“If people are intrinsically motivated to help us solve the world’s problems, then they are more motivated to stay with us,” he adds.
With the combination of technology, talent and a culture of collaboration over a relatively short distance, perhaps it’s not so surprising after all that two Nobel Prize winners used technology developed by Thermo Fisher Scientific in Brabant to achieve their breakthroughs.
Given the strength of the Brabant ecosystem for accelerating technological innovations, Smits sees many more breakthroughs on the horizon. Additionally, Smits describes how Thermo Fisher Scientific is providing the tools for future technology steps, with AI and machine learning helping to drive new innovation.
“We need to give them the ability to study human proteins and tissues more quickly. We have seen in the pandemic that the time to find a solution is crucial,” says Smits.
“In life sciences, we are creating faster turnaround time so that vaccines and viruses can be studied ten times, even 100 times faster.
“In Energy Catalysts, we are making breakthroughs to ensure that materials that would normally be perturbed during analysis now stay longer in analysis so that we can really study them.
“And in the semiconductor industry, we’re making sure that from thick layers of material, you can now go to layers of one-atom lines and study them. We’re pushing the boundaries in every way.