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How Mira Became Mobile

How Mira Became Mobile

Handheld Raman spectrometers are truly like no other analytical chemical instruments. All spectrometers (e.g. IR/NIR, UV-Vis, GC/MS, and Raman) rely on interactions between matter and energy and include detectors that collect information about resulting atomic and molecular changes. This information is used to qualify and/or quantify various chemical species. Typically, a spectrometer is a benchtop instrument attached to a computer or other visual display that is used by an analytical chemist in a laboratory.

Classical Raman spectrometers fall into this category. Lasers, filters, detectors, and all associated hardware for sampling is combined in one unit, while data processing and viewing occurs nearby.

For a comparison of other spectroscopic techniques, visit our previous blog post «Infrared spectroscopy and near infrared spectroscopy – is there a difference?».

Raman is a unique investigative analytical technique in many ways. It is said, «If you can see it, Raman can ID it.»

Indeed, Raman’s strengths are its simple sampling methods combined with its specificity. Direct analysis is possible for many pure substances without sample preparation. Sampling is performed via direct contact with a substance, remotely, or through a barrier. Even solutes in water may be directly identified. This technique is highly specific; each material investigated with Raman produces a unique «fingerprint» spectrum. Raman spectroscopy is successful at positively identifying each distinct substance, while accurately rejecting even very similar compounds.

Mira (Metrohm Instant Raman Analyzer) with several sampling attachments for easy analysis: with or without sample contact.

The Raman spectrum

Raman spectra contain peaks across a range that correspond to specific molecular connectivity and can be used to determine the composition of a sample. The spectral range is dependent on spectrometer design, and embodies a balance of resolution and sensitivity.

The «fingerprint region» (400–1800 cm-1) is used to ID unknowns and verify known materials. The region below 400 cm-1 is helpful in the analysis of minerals, gemstones, metals, and semiconductors. For most organic materials (oils, polymers, plastics, proteins, sugars/starches, alcohols, solvents, etc…), very little information above 2255 cm-1 is useful in Raman applications, as carbon-hydrogen chains contribute little to molecular qualification.

A selection of different bonds and functional groups with their general regions of activity in the Raman portion of the electromagnetic spectrum (click to enlarge).

Mira’s measuring range of 400–2300 cm-1 is perfect for most Raman applications, including:

  • Pharma & Other Regulated Industries
  • Food
  • Personal Care & Cosmetics
  • Defense & Security
  • Process Analytics
  • Materials ID
  • Education & Research

Mira is available in different configurations for all kinds of applications and user needs.

Good things come in small packages

Technology, analysis, ease of use, accuracy—handheld Raman has all of this in a small format that escapes the confines of the lab. It also invites many new types of users who employ Raman for vastly new and exciting applications. In the rest of this blog post, I share details about the development of components that led to miniaturization of Raman. This is followed by the origin story of Metrohm Raman, manufacturer of Mira (Metrohm Instant Raman Analyzers).

Four significant innovations came together to create Mira: diode lasers, specialized filters and gratings, on-axis optics, and the CCD (Charge Coupled Device) in a unique design called the «astigmatic spectrograph». These basic components of a Raman spectrograph can be seen in the graphical representation above (click to enlarge). Note that this is not an accurate depiction of the unique geometries found within Mira’s case!

Raman spectroscopy is a technique which relies on the excitation of molecules with light (energy). C.V. Raman’s discovery of Raman scattering in 1928 was enabled by focused sunlight, which was then quickly replaced with a mercury lamp for excitation and photographic plates for detection. This resulted in a simple, popular, and effective method to determine the structure of simple molecules.

C.V. Raman. India Post, Government of India / GODL-India

The first commercial Raman spectrometer was available in the 1950’s. As lasers became more available in the 1960’s, followed by improved filter technology in the 1970’s, Raman grew in popularity as a technique for a wide range of chemical analysis. Integrated systems were first seen in the 1990’s, and the miniaturization of instruments began in the early 2000’s.

Miniaturization of Raman spectrometers

Diode lasers were the first step toward handheld Raman. For those of you at a certain age, you may remember that these are the kind of small, cool, low energy lasers used in CD players, stabilized at the source with a unique kind of diffraction grating.

Powerful, efficient optical filters also contribute to miniaturization by controlling laser light scattering within the spectrograph. The development of sensitive, small Charge Coupled Devices (CCDs), which are commonly used in mobile phone cameras, permitted the detection of Raman scattering and efficient transmission of the resulting signals to a computer for processing.

The astigmatic spectrograph simplified both geometry and alignment for the many components within a Raman spectrometer; this design was the final advancement in the development of handheld Raman.

From Wyoming to Switzerland

By the 1990’s, new technologies developed for diverse industries were being incorporated into Raman spectroscopy. In Laramie, WY (USA) at the time, Dr. Keith Carron was a professor of Analytical Chemistry with a focus on Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS). Dr. Carron already had robust SERS tests, but he envisioned a low-cost Raman system that would introduce his tests to industrial, medical, or defense and security markets. His next steps would revolutionize Raman spectroscopy. 

Using commercial off-the-shelf parts, Dr. Carron and his team developed an economical benchtop instrument that eliminated the high cost of Raman analysis, helping to enable its use in university curricula. In the early 2000’s, a research and education boom began as Raman grew from an esoteric technique used in high-end applications to becoming widely available for all kinds of tasks. Dr. Carron is responsible for ushering Raman into the current era. A collaboration led to a portable Raman system and, ultimately, to a new astigmatic spectrograph design in a very small instrument.

The U.S. tragedies on September 11, 2001 created an immediate push for technology to detect terrorist activity. Around this time, anthrax scares further enforced the need for “white powder” analyzers. Fieldable chemical analysis became the goal to achieve.

Dr. Carron was inspired to invent a truly handheld, battery powered Raman device for the identification of explosives and other illicit materials. A number of iterations led to CBex, a palm-sized Raman system (even smaller than Mira!) designed by Snowy Range Industries, in February 2012 (see image). CBex caught the attention of Metrohm AG, and an offer of cooperation was sent to Dr. Carron in August 2013.

Along comes Mira

Mira was born in 2015. Not only is it a novel analytical instrument, but it is also unique amongst handheld Raman spectrometers. Mira has the smallest form factor of all commercially available Raman instruments. What truly sets Mira apart from the competition is its built-in Smart Acquire routines, which provide anyone, anywhere, access to highly accurate analytical results. It is rugged, meeting MIL-STD 810G and IP67 specifications—you can drop Mira or submerge it in a liquid to get an ID.

Once Raman escaped the confines of the laboratory, it suddenly had the potential for new uses by non-technical operators, who could perform highly analytical tests safely, quickly, and accurately.

In fact, miniaturization of Raman has revolutionized safety in a number of ways:

  • Direct analysis eliminates dangers from exposure to laboratory solvents and other chemicals.
  • Through-packaging analysis prevents user contact with potentially hazardous materials.
  • Simplified on-site materials ID verifies the quality of ingredients in foods, medicines, supplements, cosmetics, and skin care products.
  • ID of illicit materials such as narcotics, explosives, and chemical warfare agents supports quick action by military and civilian agencies.

What’s Next?

I hope that you have enjoyed learning about the evolution of Raman technology from benchtop systems to the handheld instruments we have today. In the coming months we will publish articles about Mira that describe, in detail, several interesting applications of handheld Raman spectroscopy—subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss out!

As a sneak preview: In 1 month we will be introducing a brand new system, aimed at protecting consumer safety through the ID of trace contaminants in foods. Stay tuned…

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Instrument Calibration, System Verification, and Performance Validation for Mira

Post written by Dr. Melissa Gelwicks, Technical Writer at Metrohm Raman, Laramie, Wyoming (USA).

The man behind Metrohm: Bertold Suhner

The man behind Metrohm: Bertold Suhner

On April 1 in 1943, Bertold Suhner founded Metrohm, in Herisau, Switzerland. Besides being our founder, he was a scientist, a sportsman, a painter, a pilot, and a philanthropist. We owe him a great company, and we are proud to serve the world with our legendary Swiss made instruments and application know-how – then and now.

Who was Bertold Suhner?

Bertold Suhner is mostly known for founding Metrohm. That makes sense—after all, Metrohm is the second largest employer in the Swiss canton of Appenzell Outer Rhodes and a successful global business. It’s impossible to overstate Metrohm’s importance for the Appenzell region and for analytical chemistry. However, reducing Suhner to Metrohm alone wouldn’t do him justice. His versatile interests and talents made him much more than an engineer, and his dedication to the community and the environment made him much more than the head of a company.

Bertold Suhner, founder of Metrohm.

Suhner was born in Herisau in 1910 as the son of a successful entrepreneur. After finishing school, he left his rural home region for Zurich. Here he studied mechanical engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, which is one of the most renowned universities in Switzerland and in the world. But Suhner never lost the connection to his hometown Herisau. So, after having graduated, he returned to take up work at his father’s company. After some years, when Suhner was 33, he decided to start his own business. In 1943, Suhner and his friend Willi Studer founded Metrohm. Together with their team, they planned to manufacture measuring devices for high-frequency engineering and telecommunications.

Metrohm Headquarters in Herisau, Switzerland: 1943 and today.

A stoic leader

Suhner’s leadership style was paternalistic: though always open to ideas and ready to lend an ear, it was still he who made the final decisions. Not everyone always agreed with Suhner, including his co-founder Willi Studer. The two friends did not choose an easy moment in history to found their company; World War II was raging, and both money and materials were scarce. But the employees supported the company, and were eager to join forces and create something meaningful. Perhaps it was this test of stamina during the initial difficult years which laid the foundation stone for the later success of the company.

When the company debts exceeded the share capital by multiple times in 1947, Suhner decided to take steps to rationalize the company. Despite the difficult situation, he refused to take out further loans; the company would have to sink or swim on its own merits. As a matter of principle, Suhner refused to be dependent on banks. This dispute caused Willi Studer to leave the company after just four years, but it also established the sustainable business philosophy that is still alive at Metrohm today.

 

Willi Studer, co-founder of Metrohm.

Belief turns into success

Bertold Suhner, however, continued to believe that the company had a chance of succeeding. He took over the management of the company on his own, and shaped it according to his own vision. From the start, the company focused on organic growth rather than quick profits. Business strategies were never aligned to peak periods; instead, the company endeavored to grow slowly but surely. «My aim was always to keep the size of the company manageable, and create a solid base rather than just growing regardless of cost,» Suhner said. Over the course of its nearly 77-year history, this strategy is what has helped Metrohm to survive three recession periods.

The Metrohm workforce in 1953. Today, we have grown from a handful in the Appenzell region to thousands of employees around the globe.

Bertold Suhner responded to the trust demonstrated by his workforce by holding them in exceptionally high esteem: right from the start, he regarded them as more than mere employees. In 1968, when the company celebrated its 25th anniversary, Suhner wrote a text which summarized how he viewed his team:

«A single person can never take full credit for making a company successful. It is always teamwork that leads to success.»

Bertold Suhner

Founder, Metrohm AG

The Metrohm Foundation

Suhner retired from the operational management of Metrohm in 1968. However, he remained active in the background for several years. At the age of 72, Bertold Suhner stepped down from his position as CEO of Metrohm. However, he wanted to ensure that the company continued to exist in line with his vision; Metrohm was to remain an Appenzell-based company, and never lose its innovative spirit by merging or being sold off to a large corporation. As Suhner had no children, he needed to find another way to safeguard the future of the company.

When he retired completely from Metrohm in 1982, he founded the «Metrohm Foundation» together with his business partners Hans Winzeler and Lorenz Kuhn. All company shares were then transferred to the nonprofit foundation. By initiating the Metrohm Foundation, Suhner was able to ensure Metrohm’s independence even after his resignation, while at the same time doing good for the local community. No longer dependent on profit-hungry shareholders and the pressure they exert, this enabled Metrohm to focus on its values and high quality standards – particularly with regard to the way in which people are treated.

Bertold Suhner (left) with Lorenz Kuhn, then head of marketing and distribution at Metrohm.

When the nonprofit Metrohm Foundation was created, supporting cultural and community projects became a fixture in the company: as sole shareholder of the Metrohm Group, the Metrohm Foundation is able to invest dividends in community projects. The choice of projects supported by the Foundation reflects the strong roots of the company in Eastern Switzerland. Today, the Foundation is one of the most important funding institutions for educational, cultural, and community projects. Amongst other things, it funds a chair for «New Materials» at Zurich University for Applied Sciences, and also supports the Association of Swiss Science Olympiads.

A Jack of All Trades

Despite his dedication to Metrohm, Suhner always found time to pursue other interests, and he had many of them. He may have been an engineer by profession, but his heart always beat for the nature and the natural sciences. He spent a lot of time in the mountains, mountaineering and skiing—both cross-country and alpine. Suhner also taught himself to play the organ and to paint. Matching his strong bond with nature, he painted landscapes in watercolors and in oil.

Perhaps it was these activities that ultimately defined him—much more than his academic achievements or his role at Metrohm. Even with regard to hiring new employees, he said:

«When I am faced with the task of selecting an employee, I am far more interested in his human qualities than in his technical knowledge. The hobby he pursues in his leisure hours is more important to me than what sort of education he enjoyed or what his testimonials contain. Of course specialized knowledge is essential, especially in a technical concern, but it is useless if it is not allied to human qualities.»

Bertold Suhner

Founder, Metrohm AG

After stepping down as the CEO of Metrohm, Suhner discovered his passion for mineralogy. This had started out as a collection of minerals and gemstones, but ultimately became his second career. Suhner’s thirst for knowledge made him take his new «hobby» so far that, at the age of 73, he obtained a Ph.D. from the University of Basel for his dissertation on the topic of infrared spectroscopy in mineralogy.

The philanthropist and environmentalist

Suhner always had strong ties to his hometown, Herisau, and to the Appenzell region at large. After Metrohm’s breakthrough, he had the financial means to give back to his home region. Cultural, environmental, and nonprofit causes could always count on his support. He even initiated a foundation for cultural purposes, the Bertold Suhner Foundation.

In this period of his life, Suhner became more and more convinced that humankind was causing damage to nature that was beyond repair. He tried to stop this and became active in the protection of nature. He again initiated a foundation specifically for his new cause: the Bertold Suhner Foundation for Nature, Animal, and Landscape Protection.

It’s not really surprising that Suhner pursued nature conservation with the same vigor that he had applied to all of his earlier undertakings, including Metrohm. But his unwillingness to compromise in environmental questions drove a wedge between Suhner and many of his friends and former colleagues, in particular those from political and business circles. In 1988, Suhner died from his worsening asthma at age 78. At that point, he was largely socially isolated.

Bertold Suhner: the person

Suhner never strove for financial wealth, recognition, or popularity. He always stuck to his principles, even if they were inconvenient, uncomfortable, or unpopular. You could call him a hardliner. But even though this sounds as though Suhner was fighting against the community, the contrary was the case: he was a dedicated philanthropist and environmentalist. He always tried to do what was best for society and for the environment.

What set him apart from others was that he didn’t shy away when this became uncomfortable.

Bertold Suhner (1910–1988).

Bertold Suhner built Metrohm around his ideas of independence and sustainability, and despite his departure from the company nearly 30 years ago, I still see Metrohm as a microcosm that is ruled by his values. Suhner’s strong values and his refusal to compromise didn’t always win him popularity prizes. But it’s probably safe to say that, without them, Metrohm wouldn’t be where it is now, as one of the world’s most trusted manufacturers of high-precision instruments for chemical analysis.

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Post written by Dr. Alyson Lanciki, Scientific Editor at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland. Primary research and content contribution done by Stephanie Kappes.