Creating a World Leading Instrument Company from a Garden Shed

07 Dec, 2022 | Guides & Resources
Creating a World Leading Instrument Company from a Garden Shed

This is a story of the origin of a key analytical technology and how this led to the Australian distributor ATA Scientific, analytical instruments supplier.

The story starts in the early years of the second world war at RSRE (Royal Signals and Radar Establishment) located in the town of Malvern in the UK. Steve Trudgill started there as an Apprentice and graduated to become a Senior Experimental Officer working with some of the top engineers in the country who were brought together to develop radar. They worked long, gruelling hours, often flying at night to carry out tests. The development of radar made a significant contribution to the winning of the war.

Radar developed by the RSRE

Apart from electronic engineering Steve also had a natural business ability. He installed a new garden shed and started up Lawson Tubes, purchasing old televisions and repairing them which developed into a television tube business.

In the late 1950’s, in parallel with his tube activity, he worked with Bill Woodley, a Scientific Officer within RSRE, who had been tasked to reduce the focussed spot size of magnetically focussed and deflected cathode ray tubes for Radar displays. A cottage industry sprang up from this research, becoming their own company in 1961, Precision Display Systems (PDS).

The Company continued innovative research and as it expanded the name was changed to Malvern Instruments Ltd. The first innovation was the Malvern correlator. The concept for the Malvern Correlator originated from work carried out in the mid to late 1960s at RSRE and Malvern on the fundamental properties of light. Roy Pike with his colleague Eric Jakeman conceived an idea relating to the temporal correlation of photon events, the aim being to create a novel type of ultra-high-resolution spectroscopy. 

The Malvern K7023 Correlator

A correlator is a signal analysis device which can be used to look at the correlation in a signal with a delayed version of the same signal. By averaging and multiplication of the signal with a delayed version of itself it is possible to extract periodicities or characteristic decay times present in the signal.

The Malvern Instruments’ High Speed Digital Correlator and Probability Analyser System Type K7023 was patented and launched in 1971. Steve Trudgill named the correlator after one of his daughters (Katherine) and the reference number of a Great Western railway steam locomotive (7023) of which he was a fan!

The Malvern correlator was used in combination with a photomultiplier to study the fluctuations in the intensity of scattered light over short time periods from microseconds to milliseconds. This was referred to as Photon Correlation Spectroscopy (PCS) and could be used to determine the translational diffusion coefficient of colloidal particles or molecules undergoing random Brownian motion in a liquid.

The key application was the ability to measure the size distribution of particles or macromolecules in suspension by measuring the diffusion coefficient of the scattering entities. For particle sizing the electronics had to be paired up with a laser-scattering goniometer, such as the Type 4300, and in such a configuration the Malvern Correlator became the world’s firstcommercial laser-based, particle size analyser.

This correlator technology found another early application in laser Doppler velocimetry (LDV), which could be used to measure the flow pattern of air over a wing or around an aeroplane engine or to measure the flow rate of blood in the retina of the human eye.

Since then, the technique of Photon Correlation Spectroscopy (PCS), now more commonly known as Dynamic Light Scattering (DLS), has continued to evolve with Malvern’s first integrated measurement system, the Autosizer, appearing on the market in the late 1970s. The subsequent development of Electrophoretic Light Scattering (ELS) in the early 1980s resulted in the first integrated size and zeta potential measurement system, the Zetasizer.

The latest iteration of the Zetasizer series employs the basic principles proposed by Roy Pike and his colleagues over 50 years ago but utilizing the latest advances in technology to greatly improve measurement quality, versatility, robustness, and ease of use.

                             The latest Zetasizer Advance series

The innovations continue

The next innovation based on the original opto-electronic research by Steve and his colleagues was Laser Diffraction particle sizing. Malvern was one of the pioneers in Laser Diffraction instrumentation with the release of the first instrument in 1976. Since then, a succession of ever improving instruments has culminated in the Mastersizer 3000 Series, now the market leader in Laser Diffraction particle sizing.

Malvern was merged with its sister company and is now a world-leading analytical instrument company, re-named Malvern Panalytical, and is still based in Malvern town in the UK. They continue to develop technically innovative products and now offer an extensive range of instruments applicable across many Science disciplines and many industries.

So, starting in a garden shed, Steve Trudgill with his commercial acumen and the foresight, knowledge and innovation provided by Roy Pike and his team, were the creators of Malvern Panalytical which has made such a global impact in the field of analytical instrumentation.

Steve Trudgill in retirement. He passed away 2016.

Over the years, Malvern’s innovative products gained the Queen’s Award for Technological Achievement in in 1977, 1981 and 1988. Malvern was also awarded the “Analytical and Scientific Instrument Heritage Certification” for the High Speed Digital Correlator and Probability Analyser System Type K7023.

ATA Scientific – another success story that started in a home garage

Resembling a similar humble beginning, ATA Scientific, established over 30 years ago can be traced back not in a garden shed but instead to what is known as the Bundeena Bunker – the old home garage of the company’s founders,located in the Royal National Park. 

Photo from 1970s showing the Bundeena bunker (formally the ATA Scientific office) and founders family home.

Since it’s early days, ATA Scientific has continued to evolve as a business focused on Particle, Surface/Material, Biomolecular Sciences and high resolution Imaging meeting the everchanging needs of the scientific community. Sourcing the latest technologies from around the world the company has supported a diverse range of companies throughout Australia and New Zealand particularly in the pharmaceutical, polymer, chemical and mining industries, in addition to all major universities and government research institutes like CSIRO.

At ATA Scientific, we don’t just sell our instruments

Through collaboration with a broad range of industries and academic institutions, we play a key role in optimising product development and manufacturing processes. We support our customers by providing optimal material characterisation techniques used in a wide range of industries together with key insights into the application, measurements and analysis to fully understand material behaviour. 

As the company grew in people and capability we moved to rented premises, including many years at the ANSTO Technology Park. We are now fortunate enough to move into our own building, at 47 Cawarra Rd Caringbah, Sydney.

This new facility affords purpose-built areas for service work, customer training and a demonstration suite with an array of operating instruments. 

We have built our product range over the years and expanded our customer support capacity. Apart from our long-established Particle Characterisation instruments we now also have an exciting portfolio of Life Science products. This sector is likely to be a future powerhouse given the global focus on genetic medicines, vaccine development etc. We are now well positioned to enhance our ability to support and service the Life Scientific community. We will continue to invest in scientific endeavours such as our Young Scientists Encouragement Awards and conference sponsorships.

We are pleased to be able to share some of the review comments from our customers over the years. Click here to take a look

Contact us for more information today!