MIRICO - New ESA BIC Harwell Incubatee Interview

We chatted to Mohammed Belal from MIRICO (link opens in a new window), the latest addition to the ESA BIC Harwell, about how, with the ESA BIC’s support, they are developing a compact laser spectrometer with a whole host of potential applications.

What is the product and how does it work?

MIRICO is a spin out company from the STFC that has come out of the Laser Spectroscopy Team at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory’s Space department.

MIRICO use lasers that emit light within the mid-infrared region of the spectrum. Within this wavelength it is possible to analyse molecules with a high degree of precision. This is due to the effect of the light on molecules causing their bonds to vibrate which can be measured.  

The technique uses newly developed ‘quantum cascade lasers’ which operate in the middle of the infra-red region making the signals stronger than established laser spectroscopy analysers. Through this development MIRICO develops innovative instruments that are highly compact and robust, yet capable of laboratory standard performance. 

What is the application?

The spectrometer has many potential applications including; medical diagnosis, pharmaceutical counterfeiting, food and wine adulteration and environmental monitoring.

MIRICO are currently focusing on their first product, a breath analyser for use in hospitals. The spectrometer examines the human breath and looks for the stable isotopic composition, specifically of carbon 12 (12C) and carbon 13 (13C) that are present in the CO2 we exhale. 

By measuring the ratio of 13CO2/12CO2 it is possible to identify the health state of a patient.  

MIRICO is collaborating with a healthcare company focussed on tackling severe conditions in the hospital by diagnosing patients early. Using MIRICO’s instrument, it will be possible to continuously measure patients at the bedside to signal the onset of disease states. This will ultimately save lives and money to healthcare organisations. 

What is the space connection?

Developed in RAL Space, the product was originally conceived to be used for planetary landers to enable stable isotope analysis for distant planetary atmospheric analysis.  The idea is that they will replace the bulkier mass spectrometers that are currently used on space craft with the newer, more compact and more precise laser spectrometers. The laser spectrometers are not yet technology ready for such an extreme environment however the team is still active and they are hopeful the product can be used in future space missions.

Who is the target audience?

The product has a range of different applications in different sectors so the target market is vast. For the breath analyser at hospitals the target market is the health sector. As the product develops over time we hope to enter the environmental monitoring market and oil and gas industry. The product has so many different applications that the potential is enormous. The long term aim of MIRICO is to deliver world class instruments to a variety of industries and enable new analytical possibilities to enhance scientific knowledge, improve our understanding of climate change and help improve healthcare outcomes. 

Why did you decide to join the ESA BIC Harwell?

Working on the campus we were aware of what the ESA BIC and what it has to offer. Our labs are based on site and we have developed a space technology with non-space applications which we want to commercialise so the ESA BIC seemed like the perfect place. It was an opportunity for us that we had to take, a real ‘no brainer!’

What do you hope to achieve at the ESA BIC Harwell?

In our time at the ESA BIC Harwell we are hoping to nail down the technology surrounding the product and get a very good pre-production product that is tried and tested. We also want to start shaping the business towards customers, securing key ones in different markets related to the different applications. With this we hope to get a much better understanding of where we need to go and what we need to do. It’s an exciting time for MIRICO and we can’t wait to get involved with the ESA BIC Harwell!


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