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Turning a concept into a reference in the drinking water industry

Interview with our Head of Research and Development

Behind an innovation, there are always special people. As you could read in our article 10 candles for bNovate, one of them is Fabrice Merenda. Even though he only took up the

position of Head of R&D a few months ago, Fabrice has been part of the bNovate's history since the very beginning.

During his journey, Fabrice has seen how a concept is becoming a reference in the drinking water industry. Today he kindly took the time to answer our questions and tell us more about how he came to develop the first industrial flow cytometer.

Dear Fabrice, even if you started to work for bNovate in 2011, you fully joined the company only 7 months ago. Can you tell us more about your story?

In 2011, when Simon asked me to help him develop a bacteria sensor, I was working full-time for another company, Arcoptix. However, I found Simon’s project to be so motivating, that I decided to join the adventure and split my time 50:50 for a few years.

This is when we created the first BactoSense prototypes. As this was my specialty, my main responsibility was to develop the optics, which is the heart of the instrument. It has been a very exciting, but also very demanding period of my life.

After the introduction of Bactosense in 2017, I had the opportunity to work on European Space Agency projects with Arcoptix and decided to work 80% for them. Nevertheless, as I felt that the BactoSense was also a “baby” of mine, I always kept one foot at bNovate and stayed responsible for the optic.

"Last year, when I saw how fast bNovate was growing, I decided to make a change and take on a more important, full-time role within the company."

What were your biggest challenges during the early days of the BactoSense creation?

The entire project was a huge challenge because, when we decided to create an automated flow cytometer, we were basically starting from scratch!

Fortunately, I had worked extensively with lasers, optics, and microfluidics throughout my PhD thesis, so I had the right background to design the BactoSense optics. Developing a precision instrument like the BactoSense was a matter of careful design and paying attention to the many, complex details that make it robust and accurate.

Why is BactoSense a state-of-the-art technology, and what sets it apart from a traditional laboratory flow cytometer?

BactoSense is an industrial bacteria sensor that employs flow cytometry as its primary measurement technology. It is far more stable and reliable than any traditional flow cytometer and always stays calibrated. Besides that, it doesn’t need human intervention as it includes an automated mixing and DNA staining (incubator) unit.

BactoSense is also much easier to operate than a standard flow cytometer: no reagent handling, and an incredibly intuitive user interface on its touchscreen.

What is the most interesting part of your current job?

What I like most about my job at bNovate is the multi disciplinarity: the team in Ecublens is a mix of brilliant engineers and biologists. The chance, in my new role, is to be able to closely monitor the different ongoing R&D projects.

Why is bNovate a pleasant company to work for?

On one side there are exciting projects (we have several ones in the pipeline) and on the other side great people. Simon did an amazing job putting together such a talented and motivated team.

Where do you see BactoSense in five, even ten years from now?

BactoSense is becoming a reference in the drinking water industry. I’m sure that we will convince more and more users to stop growing bacteria on Agar plates and trust the flow cytometer technology instead. I also believe in the huge potential of the Aqu@Sense MB in the pharmaceutical industry. We now have the best instrument for this market - all our efforts will pay off.

Looking ahead, I see BactoSense and BactoSense Multi becoming even simpler to use, with algorithmic aid for data interpretation or anomaly detection. Last but not least, bNovate is taking on the big challenge of detecting specific pathogens. In my opinion, this is where the full potential of the company will be realised.

More about Fabrice:

Fabrice's primary expertise is in the development of precision optical instruments. With a Master’s degree in Physics at EPFL and a PhD in Optics and Microtechnology at the same prestigious institution, Fabrice brought his passion for optical engineering to bNovate. He has played an essential role in the creation of the BactoSense technology since its inception in 2011. Fabrice has been in charge of bNovate's engineering team since November 2021, with the goal of turning technologies into products.

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