Destroying to Create: Laser Ablation Tomography Helping the Agricultural Industry and BeyondLasers for Innovative Solutions (L4IS) is a leader in Laser Ablation technology. Using destruction to create the most detailed 3D image possible, L4IS founder, Benjamin Hall is leading the charge to find new ways to use this exceptional technology, along with the support of Penn State University and Innovation Park. “Being a company that stemmed from an invention at the University, we are proud Penn Staters who are trying to showcase this wonderful technology to the world. Innovation Park treats us well, and being close to the university also allows us to utilize research facilities on campus for our work. We can even tap the talent at the university to help further develop the technology,” Hall states.

When Hall founded L4IS, he wasn’t necessarily seeking it out. While working with lasers in a different capacity at the Penn State Applied Research Lab, Hall was approached by scientists who wanted to find out if lasers could help the agricultural industry. For a long time, in order to study a root in depth, researchers painstakingly cut minute slices in order to see what was inside. Working with lasers, Hall was able to develop a way for the roots to be sliced consistently to the correct size at a much faster rate.

This collaboration led Hall to receive a grant from the National Science Foundation. Through his work, Hall decided that there was a better way to share the laser-cut pieces of root rather than physically walk them across campus. Hall decided to record the laser cut by slowly pushing a piece of root through the laser sheet with a high magnification lens. Using a special program, Hall then created a 3-D image using the recorded frames.

Destroying to Create: Laser Ablation Tomography Helping the Agricultural Industry and BeyondHall patented this process, calling it Laser Ablation Tomography, which combines a high-powered laser to repeatedly vaporize a thin surface layer of a specimen. Images of the specimen are simultaneously captured using a proprietary imaging system which is then reconstructed into a high-resolution 3D digital structure for analysis, quantification, segmentation, and virtual dissection.  Today, the speed and accuracy of laser ablation is already helping scientists analyze plant structure to determine DNA. In addition, this technology is being used by agricultural researchers at Penn State University to help develop crops that can grow in dry, low-nutrient soils. Laser Ablation has practical usage as well, not just in the lab. It can help farmers understand the complicated interactions between plant and soil, potentially helping them reduce the amount of pesticides and fertilizer being used.

According to Hall, this is just the tip of the iceberg. “LATscan is utilized by researchers in a myriad of fields which includes botany, entomology, life sciences, material science, pharmacology, etc., with applications in high-throughput phenotyping, biomimetics, root-soil and pest-plant interactions, pesticide efficacy, education, consumer products, to name a few. The most successful rollout of the technology has been in the agrochemical industry. Three out of the top seven agrochemical companies in the world utilize the technique.” With the opportunity for applying this technology in other sciences, the possibilities are endless. “L4IS’ next big industry push will be into the life sciences. LATscan allows the analysis of nature in a way not possible via any other technique, answering questions about structure and morphology everyday,” says Hall.

Recently, L4IS was featured in a WPSU episode of SciTech Now, where the latest breakthroughs in science, technology and innovation are highlighted. The video can be viewed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4U5d4do5w4I&feature=youtu.be

For more information about L4IS, visit their website at https://www.l4is.com/.