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25-Year Old Science Prodigy Brian Ruby Transforms a Science Fair Idea
into a Million-Dollar Company … Expanding What's Possible, and Paving the Way for Commercially Viable Nanotech Research in a Variety of Fields
At a time when virtually every aspect of the U.S. economy - from the housing market to gas prices - evokes a sense of doom and gloom, there is one bright area of research, development and innovation that many experts say is poised to deliver prosperous and exciting opportunities in the years to come.
According to a study conducted in 2007 by the global research firm Social Technologies, a wide range of science and technology experts predict that one of the most important and commercially valuable developments that will be seen over the next 20 years is in the multi-faceted field of Nanotechnology - science that focuses on the control of matter on an atomic and molecular scale.
The report defined nanotechnology as the creation of particles, fibers, films, coatings and other materials between 1 and 100 nanometers in size. (To offer some sense of scale here, one nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, and a DNA double-helix has a diameter of 2 nanometers.) The research firm said that major accomplishments in nanotech research that will be seen in coming years promise to dramatically change "the materials and processes used to produce many of our consumer and industrial products."
The scientists at work in this cutting-edge field of research need instruments that can capture images of their work with remarkable precision at the atomic and molecular level. That's where Pennsylvania-based Carbon Nanoprobes, Inc. is playing a key role in supporting this exciting research, and expanding the realm of what's possible. Brian Ruby, the company's CEO, says that the role Carbon Nanoprobes, Inc. plays in the field of Nanotech research is "like selling premier picks and shovels to miners, providing them with the tools they need to excel at their craft." In making it possible for researchers to capture these microscopic images, Ruby calls his team "the paparazzi of the Nanotech world." What is truly noteworthy about Carbon Nanoprobes, Inc. is that the company has found and sought patent protection on a way to provide these tools on a large and cost-effective scale - something that is truly remarkable, given the complexity and difficulty of the process.
What are Carbon Nanoprobes?
Nanotech researchers need a way of capturing 3-D images of their work at the molecular level, and an instrument known as an Atomic Force Microscope is essential to this process. Much as an old-fashioned phonograph needle is dragged over the grooves of a vinyl record album to produce music, AFM imaging is conducted by a sharp, cylindrically-shaped tip at the end of a flexible "arm" which scans the bumps and valleys of a molecular surface. A computer maps the topography of the sample that is being studied. The most accurate and effective "tip" that can be used in this scanning process is a carbon nanotube.
Thousands of times stronger than high-carbon steel, single walled carbon nanotubes are similar in diameter to a strand of double-helix DNA - and sometimes even narrower. Other "tips" can be used by Atomic Force Microscopes, but carbon nanotubes offer significant advantages because of their strength, durability and size - and because of the highly accurate images they deliver.
Why Mass Production of Carbon Nanotube Tips Will
Revolutionize Nanotechnology Research & Development
Those who rely on Atomic Force Microscopes to conduct their research are now recognizing that the limitations of the technology's primary sensing component - the tip - has a tremendous impact on the speed and accuracy of their work. At the intricate level of nanotechnology research, reading the bumps and valleys on a subatomic surface is much like reading brail. The difference between using your fist and using your fingers to read a brail message is equivalent to nanotechnology research conducted using standard technology and that conducted using a super sharp carbon nanotube tip. It has become clear that in order to push Atomic Force Microscopy to new heights requires a new breed of tips firmly rooted in nanotechnology. Remarkably, Carbon Nanoprobes, Inc. has overcome the extreme manufacturing challenges that have plagued other firms attempting to develop nanotube tips possessing this degree of precision and accuracy.
Finding a way to produce these microscopic, intricate carbon nanoprobes on a mass - and cost-effective - scale has been a major breakthrough in this field. Given the remarkable nature of this achievement, it should come as no surprise that this innovative approach to mass producing these carbon nanotubes was the idea of a brilliant young college student who had not yet even earned his engineering degree. Through mass production, the lower cost of these essential instruments now makes it financially viable for countless Nanotech researchers to do their work, and makes it much more feasible for the products they are developing to come to market and change our lives.
Asking the Right Question: How the Company Was Created
Just as fascinating as the research being conducted in the Nanotech field, the story of this company's 25-year-old founder and CEO is quite remarkable. A May 2008 article in Enterpreneur magazine described Brian Ruby as "a rare combination of scientist, visionary and businessman." The magazine said that Ruby is "simultaneously developing novel technologies, challenging the boundaries of industry standards, and making the venture rounds to drive capital to his company."
Even during his high school years, Brian Ruby was recognized for his insight into the complex field of applied science. At the age of 15, Ruby interned at IBM's T.J. Watson Research Lab, where he learned how to make carbon nanotubes - and he went on to win awards at numerous science fairs, including a regional award that was part of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. At that event, Ruby boldly secured an internship with the company sponsoring the event, Progenics Pharmaceuticals. During that internship, he was involved in an HIV vaccine research project which involved the study of certain microscopic proteins. Ruby then posed the question that changed his life when he asked, "Why can't we take a picture of it?" He became convinced that an Atomic Force Microscope was the proper instrument to use to capture an accurate picture of these proteins, and he then began to learn more about the carbon nanoprobes that are used by these instruments. Ultimately, Ruby was able to demonstrate the effectiveness and accuracy of this approach to the scientists at Progenics. This experience led him to come up with an innovative method of mass producing the carbon nanoprobes, and - at the age of 22, still only a sophomore engineering student at Columbia University -- led him to file for a patent and start his company.
About Carbon Nanoprobes, Inc.
Brian Ruby discovered his passion for science during his high school years, and went on to win awards at numerous science fairs sponsored by Intel, Siemen’s and Westinghouse. He established his company in 2003, prior to graduating from Columbia University in 2006. Over the past four years, Ruby has filed for multiple patents, incorporated, and built a team of employees, advisors, directors and investors. Carbon Nanoprobes, Inc. has successfully raised four rounds of financing, allowing the firm to spend over five years focusing on high-level product development and R&D on its proprietary technologies. In July, Carbon Nanoprobes, Inc. signed contracts with two major semiconductor manufacturers, making this one of the first Nanotech companies to actually move beyond research and start generating revenue. The company was featured in the May 2008 issue of Entrepreneur magazine, and has also been the subject of coverage by MSNBC.com, The Washington Post, and U.S. News & Report.
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