MESA+ University of Twente
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Volume 1, 2012

Blowing microbubbles

One of the youngest spin-offs of MESA+ has been established at a location between the university campus and the FC Twente football stadium. Tide Micro-fluidics. A microbubble-blowing company.

Hanging on the wall in Wim van Hoeve’s office, the founder of Tide Microfluidics, is a photograph that has all the appearances of a doormat consisting of black rubber rings. Taking a closer look we see that they are not small rubber rings but minuscule, five micrometer bubbles. Van Hoeve: “My intention is to develop a bubble generator that can produce bubbles for the pharmaceutical industry and chip manufacturers. These bubbles can improve ultrasound examinations and can be used to clean computer chips.”

Improve ultrasound examinations by blowing bubbles?
“Look, here you have an injection needle and a small bottle containing bubbles produced by the competitor. These bubbles are used as contrast fluid for ultrasound examinations. So while there are bubbles on the market, they are by no means as constant as mine. If all bubbles are of an equal size the ultrasound is reflected much better and consequently you obtain more well-defined results. For instance, you can make much better ultrasound photos of small organs, the prostate for instance, and that makes it possible to detect prostate cancer at an earlier stage.”

And using bubbles as a cleaning agent for computer chips? How does that work?
“The process involved to produce a chip consists of five hundred steps, and ten per cent of those steps are cleaning processes. Chips are highly sensitive to grime, while at the same time they are also vulnerable to cleaning brushes. My bubbles can be made to vibrate on command and therefore rinse away the grime particles. In this respect all the bubbles must be equally small given that large bubbles can burst and damage the chip surface.”

How did you come up with the name Tide Microfluidics?
“Microfluidics stands for the method to make microscopically small bubbles on a small scale and tide is just what it says: tide. I love sailing, and that implies that you always have to take the tides into account – low tide and high tide. And whichever way you look at it there is always a tide. It is constant. That’s how I want my bubbles to be: of a constant size, and a constant supply. Like the tide. Hence Tide Micro-fluidics.”

Name: Wim van Hoeve (1980)
Position: Founder of Tide Microfluidics (September 2011)
Previously: Studied physics at the University of Twente and obtained his doctorate at the beginning of 2011 in Twente with Spinozalaureaat and MESA +er Detlef Lohse
MESA +... ‘motivates’
In a year’s time: ‘I want to be able to place a small bottle containing tailor-made bubbles on someone’s desk and then say “how many would you like?’

From idea to product

Wim van Hoeve completed his doctoral research into microbubbles in March 2011, and in September of that year he founded Tide Microfluidics. Between obtaining his doctorate and starting up his business he was a guest of the University of Seville and pharmaceutical company, Bracco Suisse.

Van Hoeve: “In Seville I was able to improve by method, and in Switzerland I was able to see how a pharmaceutical company uses these bubbles. I also had the opportunity to speak with many people and tell them about my plans.”

During his doctoral research at MESA+ he developed a method to produce hundreds of thousands bubbles per second, all of equal size. He did this at the Physics of Fluidics research group of Detlef Lohse and Michel Versluis. Van Hoeve: “I wanted to commercialise my method and it was then that I was given the opportunity to work on a temporary basis for Bracco. It was at Bracco that I saw how high the demand is for my bubble method. That was when I decided to set up my own company. I discussed my plans with MESA+, took part in their workshop on early business development, and submitted an application to STW for funding to carry out a feasibility study. He received that Valorisation Grant from STW in October 2011. Van Hoeve: “That was absolutely super. The € 25,000 grant allows me to carry out research for six months into whether my product is technically feasible and whether there is a commercial market for it.”

To date everything looks fine for Van Hoeve: “I attended the European ultrasound conference in Rotterdam in January and it was apparent that there certainly is a high demand for accurately produced microbubbles. Not only for carrying out ultrasound examinations but also therapeutic applications and new imaging techniques using bubbles. The only thing now is to make a prototype.”