908 Devices

04/2/2019

Innovation

Handheld hazard detection

UNC-affiliated company 908 Devices is changing the landscape of mass spectrometry. It was recently awarded a contract to work with U.S. Department of Defense.

The co-founding 908 Devices team

7 years in business

100 Employees

Thousands of lives saved

Why Innnovators Care

With roots at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 908 Devices is a pioneer of purpose-built analytical devices for chemical and biomolecular analysis.

Over the past few years, 908 Devices has quietly advanced from a startup to a nearly 100-employee company – making an impact through its work in chemical and biomolecular analysis. It was only a matter of time before the defense community realized the significance of its technology and its potential for saving lives.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) will use 908 Devices’ High-Pressure Mass Spectrometry™ (HPMS) technology platform for its new Aerosol and Vapor Chemical Agent Detector (AVCAD) program. The program is designed to detect, identify, alarm and report the presence of traditional and advanced threat vapors and aerosols. With roots at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 908 Devices is a pioneer of purpose-built analytical devices for chemical and biomolecular analysis.

 

“With this milestone, I’m really excited about the direction we’re moving as we advance products forward and get them to market,” says Kevin Knopp, co-founder, president and CEO of 908 Devices. “I’m also proud of our team’s effort and contributions in reaching this milestone. From engineering, science and field support to marketing and customer support, I’m most proud we’ve been able to assemble a world-class team to advance our products and technologies.”

“Putting chemical analysis into handheld devices has been a goal for decades. We’ve been able to take an instrument that was relegated to the lab and make it hand portable.”

Mike Ramsey
The MX908 is like having a spectroscopist in a box.
Mike Ramsey, UNC-Chapel Hill professor and scientific founder of 908 Devices
 

And 908 Device’s HPMS technology is a game changer. Current technologies exist that can detect a chemical agent but can’t process if the agent is something potentially harmful. Is it baking flour or fentanyl? Through HPMS technology, more than 2,000 variants can be differentiated immediately, which is crucial when making measurements in the field.

“Mass spectrometry is a powerful chemical measurement tool which can provide a lot of molecular specificity – right down to the exact molecule you’re detecting,” says Mike Ramsey, 908 Devices scientific founder and Minnie N. Goldby Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. “There has long been a desire for smaller mass spectrometers for the detection of harmful materials in the atmosphere.”

The Ramsey lab develop the fundamental technology, and the 908 Devices team figured out a way to take it from the lab to the field.

“Putting chemical analysis into handheld devices has been a goal for decades. We’ve been able to take an instrument that was relegated to the lab and make it hand portable,” says Ramsey. “The technology we invented and was further advanced at UNC with 908 Devices allowed us to realize these handheld devices that weigh a few pounds. The enabling realization was the ability to perform mass spectrometry at unprecedented high pressures; roughly a million times higher pressure than conventional mass spectrometers, thus HPMS. The higher pressure operation allows significant reduction in the size, weight, and power for the necessary vacuum system compared to laboratory mass spectrometers.”

"We’re seven years in, and we still have a strong, meaningful relationship with UNC. This very strong link is unique and makes it helpful for ongoing research. As a company, this great partnership complements our efforts. Additionally, we’ve hired numerous UNC graduates and staff when they were ready to enter the commercial world, and we continue to look at new programs and projects with the university.”

Kevin Knopp

As a startup at UNC, 908 Devices was able to benefit from innovation and entrepreneurship resources across campus, including working with the Office of Technology Commercialization for license negotiation. In addition, Ramsey continues to work with KickStart Venture Services to share his experiences and insights with other up-and-coming entrepreneurs, serving as a mentor to encourage students who are in the midst of their innovation journeys.

With locations in Boston, Carrboro, NC and Campbell, CA, 908 Devices also makes products ranging from rugged, handheld chemical detection tools to compact, tiny footprint analyzers and fast separation devices, the latter of which was also invented in the Ramsey lab. These purpose-built and user-centric devices serve a range of industries including safety and security, life sciences, clinical diagnostics, oil and gas and other applied markets.

“We have many things to come,” says Knopp. “You can take the same core (HPMS) technology and change applications to solve a whole other class of problems. We have those aha moments… we can extend the technology and realize its full potential.”


Both Knopp and Ramsey attribute startup success to finding the right team of people to collaborate with along the innovation journey. A natural team builder, Knopp has a proven knack for bringing together the right personalities and skill sets to build a successful, functional team.


“If you have the right product and the right technology at the right time with the right team, you have to step off,” says Knopp. “You can’t do everything by yourself. You have to believe in your team and the technology. At the end of the day, we want to make things that help people do their jobs better.”

For more information about 908 Devices, visit 908devices.com.

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