THE technology will help map the inner workings of the mind and, equally, measure the molecules of pollutants from space, laying down the designs for breakthroughs ranging from understanding brain disease to tackling climate change.

Graeme Malcolm says that, in the evolution of technology, quantum is the next big thing after analogue and digital.

Among his regular customers are seven Nobel Prize winners, all at the forefront of developing quantum for industry and soon tackling the looming prospect of having to deal with 20 zettabytes - a one with 21 zeros - of data, nearly twice the current amount flooding our systems.

The co-founder says it is probably best known for making the world’s purest light.

However, it has also created in collaboration the world’s most accurate clock and calibrating light for cameras on ground-breaking satellite scrutiny of the earth.

The potential practical applications are now becoming evident in technology being produced by the Glasgow company in photonics - the science of light generation - and quantum mechanics, about 100 years after that theory was first expressed and debated by physicists like Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr.

M Squared Lasers will be measuring carbon dioxide emissions and decoding the software that works the human brain, decoding disease and using a gravity camera to see through solid ground

under its plans, while also helping form the bedrock of future finance and security.

It has provided the means for the European Space Agency project Sentinel 5P to measure pollutants in the atmosphere in another first that starts to lay bare in detail the damage done to the planet, in turn leading policymakers to target resolutions.

He will keep Glasgow as the global base the burgeoning international operation which utilises the benefits of the collaborative nature of technology development, but also set up in Silicon Valley as it launched in 2006, and now has around 75 worldwide business link-ups already in place.

Competition comes less from the US these days, however, and more from smaller European countries, as pockets of scientists who have been quietly working in labs across the continent for decades emerge to industry.


Mr Graham, above, first came into contact with laser technology as a schoolboy, working on weekends with Barr and Stroud, the pioneering Glasgow optical engineering firm who played a leading role in the development of modern optics for the Armed Forces, then very much at the forefront of wider global laser development.

Now, at 50, he is steering a company through work in which the potential seems infinite.

He says: “My take on it is: analogue, digital ... what comes next? The progression of technologies is to quantum.

“At M Squared we make what we call precision light.

“We make laser light that we can use in different applications.

“If we’ve got a claim to fame at M Squared it’s that we make the world’s purest light.” He says: “Why would that be important? Who would care about that? Well it turns out that if you want to make things or measure things or you want to develop new technologies, the way that light is used in these different techniques is very important.

“Our lasers are used to make things like chips that go inside mobile phones, cell phones, or internet of things or 5G, or autonomous vehicles.”

The Sentinel-5P project brought striking imagery of measured pollutants seen worldwide.

He said: “We were almost like the optician for that mission, we created the precision light. Within about four months of going up it became the best data set that mankind has on those gases. So that’s ozone, formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide. For us, one of the future missions is to be able to see CO2.”

The firm is also involved in multiple collaborations with universities across Scotland including Strathclyde, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Heriot Watt, employs 120 and nearing £20 million turnover, with an aim to reach £100m with 500 staff in five years.

The firm was hailed for making the Tech Nation top Future Fifty list, following firms such as Skyscanner, the Scots flights monitoring company which was acquired by Chinese online travel agency Ctrip in a £1.4 billion deal.

He said: “With the use of precision light and monitoring earth observation and actually chemical sensing even in an industrial environment for pollution control, there's kind of a common theme that we work on there.

“Then the same light can go all the way from imaging the planet from space at a chemical level, all the way down to looking at individual cells in a plant, an animal or a human.

“The same technology can be applied to look at the biochemistry of life.

“We've got an image where you can actually look at a small fish called a Zebra fish and with our light sheet technology that we've developed with St Andrews University, we can actually see every cell in the body and we can see the biochemistry of every cell in the body of that fish.

“So you can now start to look at things like, well how does the brain work?

“Because we really know very little about the process of how a brain works even in an animal like a mouse.


Above: Optically cleared mouse brain expressing thy1-GFP Actin, maximum intensity projected using a coloured height map. Original dataset was 600x600x640 micrometres.

“We still don't really fully understand all the processes and what is the software system that sits inside the brain and if you start to look at brain disease there's very little known about how that forms and evolves.

“This ability to use precision light to functionally image and architecturally image things for neuro science and cancer biology and also stem-cell research where we're helping people develop this whole process of regenerative medicine where they are trying to use stem-cells to create cells, whether it's the pancreas, the liver, the heart, the process of using precision light to image all of the biochemistry that's going on in there is incredibly important.

“Then finally, there's the area of quantum, which is really the next big step-change in generational technology.”

READ MORE: Skyscanner architect invests in ad-free social media firm based in Edinburgh

“But it's nearly taken almost 100 years to start to make some of the things that could be made with quantum.

“There is here's a sense when you take semi-conductors and stuff, you're making things so small that there's only a small number of atoms in the things you're making.

“When you get to the level of quantum we're often making machines that are just a few atoms big and we're using the quantum mechanical processes inside the atoms and between the atoms as part of the machine.”

“An example of that would be, where we use a laser set-up to create these atoms that we call ultra-cold.

“If you imagine like an egg box with six atoms in it, if I was to flick the egg box the atoms would oscillate. Now if I do that really carefully and instead of flicking the egg-box I use my lasers to adjust the atoms so that they're all perfectly cold, and if I get my six atoms there and then I use the lasers to perturb that, the atoms will oscillate with an oscillation that's almost like the perfect tick for a clock.


Above: Atom Interferometer

“The tick is so accurate that a wrist watch would be accurate to about a second a day. The tick that you get from this quantum lattice clock would be accurate to one second in 20 million, million, million seconds.

“On the one hand you kind of think well that's almost numbers for the sake of numbers. But it's not, because if you look at what's going on in the world: the increasing pace of communications and things like stock exchanges. When 2008 happened people tried to do the analysis of ‘well, what happened there?’

"But they couldn't because time wasn't well enough synchronised across all these ultra-fast communication networks so that when someone tried to work out, was it a trade in the market in Chicago or was it the Frankfurt Stock Exchange? What happened first?

"They can't really tell because they don't have the accuracy of the timer.”

He says: “Clocks are often the first indicator that a technology leap is occurring. In that particular case the first quantum clock that you build carefully becomes the state of the art in terms of clocks but it's not just that, that is also the first thing you do in quantum.

“We collaborated with a group in Boulder in the US, to build the most accurate of these clocks and that clock is the most accurate machine that mankind has ever built.

“You can then start to build a bunch of other things, from very accurate accelerometers, used to measure position, to gravity cameras that you'd be able to use to measure the mass of things.”

A gravity camera can see “where there is high density, or high gravity field, but they'd see the areas where there's voids, so if there's a sinkhole or a pipe, they'd be able to measure there's less gravity associated with the lack of any mass there”.

"It almost seems inconceivable that it's such a little period of time ago that we were didn't have things like that in our lives."

"I was doing my doctorate when I met Gareth Maker who is my co-founder at M Squared and we both were part of a Strathclyde University spin-out called Microlase. We grew through the '90s and sold to a Silicon Valley company, Coherent, which was kind of at the time the Google of lasers. So that was a great journey for us through the '90s."


"We spent five years working for a Silicon Valley company, seeing things from that more global technology industry perspective. Then in 2006 we set up M Squared so we can see how the technology changes so fast."

READ MORE: Coherent buys out Microlase

"It was our 13th birthday recently and often these technologies, in particular hardware ones, can take quite a long time to develop but one of the things we were reflecting on was in 2006, when we set the company up, there weren't any iPhones, it was the year before the iPhone was invented.

"So we all think that it's been around forever but if you actually go back and look it's just over a decade that even the iPhone's existed for so in that context the speed of change.

“We're now at the point where we're building quantum systems that will be able to do those types of techniques."

He returns to issues of the environment: “I think in Scotland we can show leadership in this.

"Climate change is one of, if not the, biggest issues for society.

"At M Squared we kind of like this idea of ‘light for good’.

"We like the idea of being able to use our technology for helping these types of things and I think that’s just something that more and more organisations, big and small, are able to say, ‘well look, nobody’s got the magic bullet but we can all do our own individual bits and we all need to do our individual bits’.”


Q What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

A Japan – the cultural differences and the friendliness of all the people is a great mix and makes it a fantastic place to do business.

Q When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

A When I was younger, I always wanted to be an explorer, travelling the globe as an archaeologist.

Q What was your biggest break in business?

A Winning our first multi-million pound contract for lasers was a great catalyst and underpins where we are today.

Q What was your worst moment in business?

A Dealing with the fallout from the global telecomms bubble in 2003 was a challenging time, it had a real impact on the laser industry.

Q Who do you most admire and why?

A I deeply admire James Clerk Maxwell for his outstanding contribution to our understanding of science.

Q What book are you reading and what music are you listening to? What was the last film you saw?

A I’m currently readying Bill Bryson’s, The Road to Little Dribbling – a great page turner. I’m also listening to Amy MacDonald’s album, Woman of the World.