By Karen Peattie

A SCOTS university’s new spinout, targeting the thin film and sensor industry currently valued at £2.5 billion globally, is on a mission to “disrupt” the sector.

AlbaSense, based within the Institute of Thin Films, Sensors and Imaging (ITFSI) at the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) in Paisley, will develop low-cost, high-performance thin film optical coatings and photonic sensors, using exclusive patented processes.

The films form a key component in a range of applications, including autonomous photonic-based gas sensors, medical devices such as breath analysers, non-contact thermometers, and advanced imaging systems.

AlbaSense, the third spinout from UWS, was founded by Professor Des Gibson, a pioneer in thin film deposition and photonic sensor technology, and will license core IP (intellectual property) – including three patents – from the university on a worldwide exclusive basis.

The firm, through ITFSI, is already working with Glenrothes-based Semefab, a leading manufacturer of microelectronics and micro electro-mechanical systems (MEMS).

“AlbaSense is the result of world-class research and expertise, combined with previous industry experience, which has led to the identification of fundamental market needs for lower-cost, thin film and sensor technology,” said Prof Gibson.

“We aim to provide imaging and sensor solutions in a range of areas where miniaturised high-volume, low-cost measurement is required, such as medical diagnostics, agritech, environmental monitoring, and monitoring of industrial processes.”

He noted that working from within the ITFSI will allow AlbaSense to “retain the wide range of skills and academic expertise on offer at the university, while bringing strong industry links and economic benefits to UWS, contributing directly to Scotland’s thriving innovation economy”.

Allan James, founder and chief executive of Semefab, said AlbaSense will “provide unique optical coating technology for our infrared detector products, as well as precision photonic sensor technology”. He added: “We have been fortunate to work with AlbaSense and the wider team within the Institute of Thin Films, benefiting from a wide range of skills and experience. I very much look forward to continuing to work with the team over the coming months.”

AlbaSense will benefit from two phases of funding from Scottish Enterprise’s High Growth Spin-Out Programme, worth £528,000 over three years. Additionally, two CENSIS projects, three Innovate UK projects and an EU-funded Horizon 2020 project, worth a total of £3 million, have been secured to develop end-use applications of the patented technology.

Johnny Mone, head of business innovation at UWS, described AlbaSense as “a fantastic example of the pioneering research and innovation taking place at UWS”, adding: “It highlights the university’s commitment to supporting enterprise.”

He noted that a recent report showcasing the UK’s world-leading research capability highlighted that Scotland is leading the way in university spinouts.

In addition to Prof Gibson, who has more than 30 years’ industry and academic experience in sensors and thin film technologies, the AlbaSense team comprises UWS academics with previous industry experience: Dr David Hutson, expert in research and development for thin film devices; Dr Shigeng Song, expert in thin film physics and applications; Dr Lewis Fleming, specialist in gas sensors; Dr Parag Vichare, expert in manufacturing research; and Dr Ewan Waddell, expert in optical and physical modelling.

The University of the West of Scotland was recently named Higher Educational Institution of the year at The Herald Higher Education Awards and is one of Scotland’s largest modern universities. Its Institute of Thin Films, Sensors and Imaging was set up in 2014 within the School of Computing, Engineering and Physical Sciences.