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UT Austin Chemical Sensor Startup Secures Major Investment

UT Austin Chemical Sensor Startup Secures Major Investment
Lantha’s sensors can quickly and cheaply identify a wide range of chemicals in an uncharacterized sample. Each chemical produces a unique eight-factor signature of color and brightness that can be used to identify it and quantify concentrations. Credit: Sam Dunning and David Steadman.

A tech startup that spun out of The University of Texas at Austin, Lantha Inc., has successfully completed its first round of venture capital investments, securing $2.6 million from the GOOSE Society of Texas and other investors. The company is commercializing a novel chemical sensor invented at UT Austin that holds promise to dramatically lower costs and return faster results compared with other analytical tools. The innovation could have applications as diverse as the detection of chemical isotopes, quality control testing of feedstocks in manufacturing computer chips and pharmaceuticals, and detecting contamination in drinking water.

"The new funding will enable us to expand our workforce and further develop the handheld device that allows our tests to be performed remotely in virtually any location on the globe without having to send samples off to a laboratory," said chemistry associate professor Simon Humphrey, who led the research at UT Austin and serves as the chief technology officer of Lantha Sensors.

The new lanthanide-based metal organic framework materials that form the basis of the new sensors were discovered in Humphrey's lab and form the basis of this next generation of rapid chemical sensors.

Humphrey said the company plans to begin selling its sensor system in spring 2020.

Lantha Sensors' handheld reader and single-use, disposable solid-state sensors are faster, cheaper and easier to use than traditional analytic tools such as NMR, FTIR and Karl Fischer titration, and they are just as accurate. The sensor system can detect parts-per-million concentrations of various chemicals, from harmful volatile organic compounds such as benzene to cyanide to glyphosate (Round Up) to trace water that can harm sensitive chemical and fuel systems. Before the development of Lantha Sensors' system, these tests were very expensive, if not impossible, outside centralized laboratories using specialized equipment operated by highly trained chemists and technicians.

Lantha Sensors was formed in July 2019 with team members Rob Toker (chairman and chief executive officer), Sam Dunning (vice president, technology development), Eric Sikma (adviser), and Jeff Smisek (board member), formerly CEO of United and Continental Airlines.

"This exemplifies the commercial potential for innovative research that is achieved by students, postdocs and faculty at The University of Texas at Austin," said Van Truskett, director for technology innovation development at UT Austin's Office of Technology Commercialization.

The GOOSE Society of Texas is a Houston-based investment group established in 2005 that has invested more than $50 million in early stage startups. The Lantha Sensors investment represents the first time GOOSE has funded technology coming out of UT Austin.

Humphrey and UT Austin share joint patents on the sensor material and on the process of analyzing results, which are licensed exclusively to Lantha Inc.

The University of Texas at Austin is committed to transparency and disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. The investigator who led this research, Simon Humphrey, shares joint patents with the university on the sensor material described in this news release, and he has submitted required financial disclosure forms with the university.

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Monday, 18 November 2019

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