GoPhotonics interviewed Sébastien Blais-Ouellette, the Founder and CEO of Photon etc. Sebastien Blais-Ouellette is the cornerstone of Photon etc's business development and strategic planning. Sébastien also serves as the ambassador for the company, upholding its vision and advancing its mission. Furthermore, his long-term commitment to work-life balance has created a physically and mentally healthy corporate culture. Sébastien's vision of a better world, and determination to make it happen, motivates his team to pursue ever more ambitious projects.
Sebastien completed a master degree in high energy physics at the University of Montreal and a Ph.D. in astrophysics in co-direction at the University of Montreal and the University of Aix-Marseille. Then, as a researcher in the astronomy department of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), he developed a technology using volume Bragg gratings to combine images and optical spectra of an object or sample in order to understand its nature. This is how Photon etc. is born from the desire to reveal features of the universe still invisible. Suspecting the potential of this filter for microscopy, medicine, and the environment, Sebastien Blais-Ouellette decides to push the exploration by turning its instrument towards terrestrial applications and clear the way for the birth of an outstanding company.
Q. Can you give us a brief history of Photon etc.? How was the company formed and what is your objective?
Sebastien Blais-Ouellette: Photon etc. is a renowned Canadian-Quebec company, located in the heart of Montreal's innovative district, specializing in the design and manufacturing of hyperspectral and infrared imaging systems. Founded in 2003, our expertise in photonics allows us to provide innovative solutions to the most complex challenges of research and advanced industrial applications. Our focus at first was providing custom hyperspectral instruments to the advanced materials academic community, we then expanded our expertise to include infrared cameras and consequently integrated two new markets: the life sciences and industrial market. Our aim is to design and manufacture solutions for the world's most complex challenges by putting our state-of-the-art technologies and expertise to work for the world's innovators and scientists.
Q. Can you tell us more about your product portfolio?
Sebastien Blais-Ouellette: Photon etc. offers cutting-edge photonic and optical research instrumentation tailored to meet the evolving demands of the life sciences, advanced materials, and industrial sectors.
Our core product portfolio encompasses the following technologies:
- Hyperspectral Imaging Systems: used for a broad range of applications, from material analysis to life sciences. Hyperspectral imaging captures information from across the electromagnetic spectrum, offering detailed insight into the composition and properties of an object.
- Infrared Systems: mainly used for material analysis, quality control, and more recently for in vivo imaging in life sciences.
Q. What makes your industrial cameras different from the other cameras available in the market?
Sebastien Blais-Ouellette: Our industrial camera has a cooling mechanism perfect for industrial applications with a minimum lifespan of over five years. Thermoelectric cooling (TEC) is a cooling system that is more reliable than other available cooling technologies. TEC is integrated into both our InGaAs (Alizé 1.7, ZephIR 1.7) and HgCdTe (ZephIR 2.5) cameras. By using thermoelectric cooling, our cameras don't require any maintenance from water or a liquid nitrogen chilled unit and do not suffer from the limited lifetime of Stirling mechanical coolers. Our deep-cool industrial cameras allow us to acquire more signals and minimize unwanted noise for a given imaging application compared to the competition.
Q. What market segments do you cater to? Which segment is the largest for you?
Sebastien Blais-Ouellette: We have three markets: life sciences, industrial and advanced materials. Our market with the strongest growth is life sciences with the in vivo imaging platforms, IR VIVO, and all the instruments we develop for the NIR-II market: plate reader, spectral probe, infrared broadband camera, and hyperspectral microscope. The industrial segment covers materials sorting (plastics and textiles), hydrocarbon detection, mining, and agricultural scanning. Finally, the advanced materials segment covers solar materials, nanomaterials, and semiconductors.
Q. Who are your customers and where are they located? What is rough percentage-wise geographic distribution?
Sebastien Blais-Ouellette: Our customers are primarily located in the United States and of course Canada, but we also have a lot of interest coming from different European countries. We’ve recently seen growing interest in China and Korea since the introduction of our new segments in life sciences and the IR VIVO family.
Q. Photon etc. acquired Kaer Labs in September 2022. What was the impact of this acquisition? Were there any synergies?
Sebastien Blais-Ouellette: The decision to acquire Kaer Labs was a highly strategic transaction with the goal of increasing our presence in Europe and furthering key aspects of our development plan, while also leveraging Kaer Labs' expertise and breakthroughs in NIR-II pre-clinical and clinical applications. Photon etc. is a pioneer in infrared imaging, and Kaer Labs is the only company currently on the market offering an open preclinical system. Together, we offer the most comprehensive and powerful range of in vivo NIR and NIR-II solutions. Solutions that will increase our understanding of many diseases - including cancer and infectious diseases - and accelerate the development of new drugs.
Q. Can you tell us more about hyperspectral imaging technology?
Sebastien Blais-Ouellette: Hyperspectral imaging is a non-destructive technique that explores the electromagnetic spectrum far beyond the red, green, and blue (RGB) bands that are detected by standard colour cameras. This method can image over a wide range of bands stretching from the visible to the near-infrared.
Photon etc.’s hyperspectral imaging systems are based on two distinct types of hyperspectral technology:
This push-broom hyperspectral camera is specifically designed for in-line industrial purposes for sorting (textiles, agro foods, and plastics), hydrocarbon detection, and mining scanning. Photon etc. has maximized the performances of these push-broom cameras by combining an industrial spectrometer and a TEC cooling infrared camera. This combination guarantees an excellent resolution and an expected lifetime of 5 years +.
The IMA or GRAND-EOS
These spectral scanning hyperspectral imagers utilize a patented Volume Bragg Grating (VBG) filtering technology that captures monochromatic images sequentially. These platforms were designed with a focus on fundamental research and gaining insights into the optical properties of advanced materials and are particularly suited for the fast acquisition of spectral information from millions of points in the field of view of the camera.
Q. The multispectral imager, IR VIVO SynIRgy from Photon etc. received a contract from Innovative Solutions Canada (ISC). What made them select this product? Can you tell us about the key features of this product?
Sebastien Blais-Ouellette: We proposed the IR VIVO SynIRgy following a Call for Proposals in Quantum Photonics from Innovative Solutions Canada (ISC) on behalf of the National Research Council Canada (NRC). They were looking for a combination of imaging capabilities never seen before. The SynIRgy is a remarkable advancement in the preclinical field that combines bioluminescence, NIR, and NIR-II imaging for the precise colocalization of tumors (bioluminescence), with the advantage of sharp, high-resolution imaging (NIR-II). The NIR-II is a more consistent complementary modality to bioluminescence, able to collect ballistic photons from deeper in the tissue. The combination with NIR allows the use of the larger list of already validated dyes in this range, before a possible transition to NIR-II. SynIRgy is the perfect combination of the power of NIR-II and the properties of NIR.
Q. Can you tell us about the specialties of Laser Line Tunable Filters (LLTF)?
Sebastien Blais-Ouellette: The Laser Line Tunable Filter (LLTF CONTRAST) is a non-dispersive patented optical tunable bandpass filter based on volume Bragg gratings. It combines an outstanding out-of-band rejection with an optical density higher than OD6 and a wideband tuning range across the visible (VIS) and infrared (NIR, SWIR) spectra in a single instrument. This optical tunable bandpass filter can be customized to cover the entire 400 nm to 2500 nm spectral range with a high resolution in wavelength.
This supercontinuum tunable filter exhibits remarkable versatility when integrated with supercontinuum sources, allowing for the generation of tunable excitation sources. Such combinations unlock the potential for advanced spectroscopic techniques, including photoluminescence excitation (PLE), photoluminescence (PL), and Raman spectroscopy, enabling precise and insightful analyses.
Q. The SWIR camera, ZephIR 1.7 finds applications in many areas. What are the key features of this IR camera?
Sebastien Blais-Ouellette: The ZephIR 1.7 is a high-end, scientific-grade InGaAs camera that combines performance with reliability. It has extremely low noise levels, high efficiency, and a rapid frame rate compatible with an external trigger. This is made possible by combining our state-of-the-art control electronics and a four-stage thermoelectric cooler (TEC) which can maintain an operating temperature as low as -80 °C. The TEC uses forced air cooling that alleviates the need for a water or liquid nitrogen chiller unit, increasing reliability, and is designed to last for years.
The ZephIR 1.7 stands out as one of the market's most reliable SWIR InGaAs cameras for life sciences applications, boasting an exceptional sensitivity level, all while offering a high-end experience that remains affordable.
Q. What are the features of an IMA hyperspectral microscope?
Sebastien Blais-Ouellette: The IMA™ is a fast, all-in-one hyperspectral microscope suitable for analyzing solar cells and advanced materials in the visible (VIS), near-infrared (NIR), and/or short-wave infrared (SWIR) spectral ranges. Based on Photon etc.’s high-performance tunable imaging filter, this instrument delivers exceptional image and data quality for photovoltaic, semiconductors materials, and nanomaterials.
The main features of the IMA™ are:
- VIS, NIR, and/or SWIR spectral ranges. One single instrument covering 400 nm - 1620 nm
- High spatial and spectral resolution
- 3D (spatial and spectral) mapping of photoluminescence (PL), electroluminescence (EL), absorbance, reflectance
- Quantitative PL and EL measurements
- MP s-CMOS camera / high-performance InGaAs camera
- Illumination module including up to 3 laser sources or LEDs and halogen or Hg lamps.
- Scientific grade upright or inverted microscope
- Fast spectral scanning hyperspectral imaging (no raster or line scan)
- PHySpec Software: acquisition and analysis – unlimited license included
- Possible Customization
Q. What is your product and company roadmap for the next 3 years?
Sebastien Blais-Ouellette: We have exciting plans for 2024-2026.
One of the things we can say is we’re launching a cutting-edge 640 x 512 infrared area camera equipped with a TEC cooling mechanism for the industrial segment. This state-of-the-art camera will be seamlessly integrated into both our L-EOS and nCore product lines, significantly enhancing our capabilities in the SWIR region. This launch will mark a pivotal step in our objective to continuously advance our technology and expand our offerings to meet the evolving needs of our customers.
Photon etc. is embarking on a transformative journey over the next three years. With the recent acquisition of KAER, renowned for its expertise in pre-clinical and clinical applications, we're integrating its advanced technology to bolster our product lineup. This integration will not only enhance our current offerings but also introduce a broader range of cutting-edge solutions. Expect innovative products that empower researchers and industry professionals to tackle an even wider array of complex challenges as we continue to fulfill our vision of providing an in-depth understanding and insight into an increasingly complex world.
About Photon etc.
Photon etc. is a renowned Quebec company specializing in the design and manufacture of hyperspectral and infrared imaging systems. The company has established itself as a key player in hyperspectral and infrared imaging. The vertical integration of their platforms facilitates better quality control at every stage of production and optimization for the most niche applications. Beyond the proven product lines, they are leveraging expertise and technologies through a growing number of collaborations and partnerships with industries and researchers around the world.