Max Planck Innovation gets caesar spin-off KonTEM under way

Spin-off company develops phase contrast for electron microscopy

November 25, 2011

November 15 marked the founding of KonTEM GmbH, a new spin-off from the caesar research centre. KonTEM has developed an innovative phase contrast system for transmission electron microscopes (TEM). The new technology enables scientists to achieve better contrast and high object resolution at the same time, opening up new potential for the testing of biological samples.

Testing biological samples with a transmission electron microscope is an expensive and difficult procedure. Because the sample interacts with the electron beam only minimally, the image is very weak in contrast; the details are very difficult to make out. KonTEM has managed to translate the phase contrast technique, well known in light microscopy, to electron microscopy in a way that makes it suitable for routine use.

The basis of the new technology originated in research conducted at the Max Planck Institute of Biophysics in Frankfurt and was then developed into a marketable product at caesar. Max Planck Innovation, the Max Planck Society’s technology transfer organisation, and caesar licence the rights to the technology exclusively to KonTEM.

KonTEM’s phase contrast system consists of two main components, the phase plate and an automatic positioning mechanism. The phase plate is the centrepiece of the system. It is an ultra-thin perforated film. It controls the phase of the scattered electrons and the object is consequently depicted in sharp focus and high contrast. The positioning mechanism enables the perforations in the phase plate to be positioned in the TEM’s electron beam by computer control, correct to within a few nanometres. The modular construction means that the system can be adapted to suit all of the common TEM models, new or old.

“Our new phase contrast system is of interest to research institutions and universities that focus on structural biology first and foremost, but it is also useful to companies in the polymer and pharmaceuticals industries, which have to deal with similar contrast issues,” explains Joerg Wamser, Director of KonTEM GmbH. “With the support of Max Planck Innovation we were able to obtain funding from the EXIST research-transfer initiative run by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology (BMWi). This and the numerous awards the project has won underline what an outstanding and future-oriented technology we have here.”


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