Microtechnology, or technology at a microscopic scale, and nanotechnology are areas of expertise in which the BioAlps cluster is rich and experienced, even though the latter discipline is still in its infancy. Nanotechnology (“nanotech") is the study of the control of matter on an atomic and molecular scale.
Strictly speaking, nanotechnology deals with structures of the size 100 nanometers or smaller, and involves developing materials or devices within that size range. Nanotechnology is very diverse, ranging from novel extensions or miniaturization of existing devices to completely new approaches to developing new materials, as well as improved manufacturing methods.
While it is difficult to assess the size of the nanotechnology market applied to life sciences, nevertheless technological advances have made nanotechnologies more available to a growing number of users, and the demand for miniaturized systems keeps increasing in the medical device, pharmaceutical and life science research segments.
The BioAlps cluster benefits from a rich network of basic research centres and different industries, accelerating the transition from nanotech innovations to real products.
A young industry, nanotech can be applied to diverse fields, notably in the life sciences:
Fundamentals: nanofluidics; nanoparticles; modelling.
Single Cell Platform: analysis; manipulation; imaging; cell arrays.
Cell and Tissue Engineering: cell growth; regenerative medicine; implantable systems.
Imaging: photonics; plasmonics.
Medicine: clinical applications of nanotech; point of care technologies; cell analysis systems.
Molecular Systems/Analysis: techniques such as chromatography and detection systems.
Nanobiotechnology, nanobiosensors; nanomanipulation tools.
Systems: integrated microfluidic platforms.
The institutions in Geneva (Ecole d’ingénieurs), Le Locle (Ecole d’ingénieurs ARC), Sion (Haute école
Valaisanne) and Yverdon (Haute école d’ingénieurs et de gestion du canton de Vaud) which are part of the University of Applied Sciences in Western Switzerland (HES-SO) all offer a Master of Advanced Studies in Nano-Micro Technology.
The Fondation Suisse pour la Recherche en Microtechnique (FSRM), based in Neuchâtel, provides vocational training in many areas of nano- and microtechnology, to assist both researchers and company executives in furthering their knowledge and skills.
In the BioAlps cluster, the EPFL is one of the largest nanotech research centres in Switzerland. At the EPFL, teams conduct research on DNA, single cell microarrays, and lab-on-a-chip microassays, among others.
The HES-SO are active in the field of micro- and nanotechnology, more specifically HE-Arc Ingénierie in Le Locle, Saint-Imier and Délémont; the Haute école du paysage d’ingénierie et d’architecture de Genève (HEPIA) in Geneva; the Haute Ecole d'Ingénierie et de Gestion du Canton de Vaud (HEIG-VD) in Yverdon-les-Bains; the Ecole d'ingénieurs et d'architectes in Fribourg (EIAF); and the HES-SO Valais. Furthermore, the University of Neuchâtel offers a Master in micro- and nanotech, while the University of Fribourg’s Adolf Merkle Institute focuses on nanomaterials.
Basic and applied research are carried out at institutions such as the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM) in Neuchâtel. The centre is a privately held, knowledge-based company carrying out research and development specializing in micro- and nanotechnology, systems engineering and information technology.
The CSEM is also a start-up incubator which has launched a number of enterprises with innovative technologies. Micronarc is a communication platform for micro- and nanotechnologies in Western Switzerland, while Swissnanotech is an information platform encouraging international dialogue and partnerships with the Swiss nanotechnology and microtechnology community.
In the life science field, there are already a large number of local users of nanotech applications, such as large pharmaceutical companies Novartis and Merck-Serono, and medtech companies Medtronic and Edwards. There are a number of companies in the micro- and nanotech sectors in the BioAlps life science cluster.
Scitec Research is a service provider for control analyses in the fields of environment, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and natural products. Scitec Research also develops micro-systems for clinical and chemical analyses.
Biocartis develops molecular diagnostics solutions for personalised medicine. The company’s technology allows for flexible and efficient multiplexed analyses through the use of encoded microcarriers and specifically designed microfluidic setups.
Picodrill develops nano- and pico-scale technologies applicable in biotech, semiconductors, photonics and micro-electro mechanical systems (MEMS).
Silsens develops a wide range of sensors for environmental safety, industry process control, automotive, medical and biotechnology applications.
Arrayon Biotechnology develops bionano-engineering of material surfaces, in particular in the development and commercialisation of products for the biochip and textile markets.