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The People Behind the Particles

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Particle Works, a member of the Blacktrace Group, manufactures high-performance nano- and microstructured materials with precisely controlled particle size, shape and architecture. We caught up with Mark Gilligan, Group CEO, to discuss the people behind the particles.

What led you to launch Particle Works?

Imagine walking into a kitchen appliance store and asking for a loaf of bread. No doubt the sales person would look at you with a bemused expression and helpfully suggest trying the supermarket across the road. The Blacktrace Group found itself in a similarly unusual position four years ago, albeit without the ovens and bread. More and more scientists came to us asking for monodispersed particles, as they didn’t want to make their own. We had always considered ourselves as an equipment provider, but we were presented with the opportunity to move into supplying particles and materials as well. There was clearly a demand for these highly monodispersed particles, yet the industry seemed slow to respond and adapt traditional manufacturing methods.

Pavel Abdulkin, now head of Particle Works, approached me in October 2014 and asked to start a particle engineering company using our equipment. Our aims aligned and Particle Works was born, bringing together the expertise of materials scientists, chemists and engineers to produce small quantities of high quality, monodispersed particles, such as hydrogel beads, quantum dots and gold nanoparticles.

How important are your people in the success of the company?

Our people are equally, if not more, valuable than the products we make; it simply wouldn’t be possible to accomplish what we do without them. It is difficult to make high quality particles, so we set out to hire the very best people from the start; people who were very knowledgeable about continuous flow and droplet microfluidics, and just as enthusiastic about them.

The entire Particle Works R&D department is – quite by accident – made up of University of Cambridge PhD graduates who have been working with nano- and microparticles and droplet microfluidics throughout their careers, each bringing over five years of relevant experience to the table. Particle Works was an obvious home for them to continue developing their considerable understanding, and apply their passion and enthusiasm to particle development. Hiring high caliber people, combined with our quality assurance processes, ensures that our customers can be confident of batch-to-batch consistency, secure in the knowledge that the people behind the particles are not simply doing a job, but are excited about the science they are pursuing.

How has Particle Works benefited from being a member of Blacktrace?

High quality materials are essential for research and development, yet many scientists are expected to do incredible work using inferior products. Particle Works aims to disrupt this state of affairs, and we benefit from manufacturing particles in house with our own Syrris and Dolomite equipment. These instruments are continually undergoing development as we observe how they perform under lots of testing every day. Having control of the whole production process, including the manufacturing equipment, allows us to keep improving our offering, and that is worth more than its weight in monodispersed gold nanoparticles.