Newcastle company Rapid Phenotype's Smart Lab mobile chemistry lab to launch in December

Three's company: Biologists, mates and start-up founders Dr Jamie Flynn, Dr Antony Martin and Dr William Palmer.
Three's company: Biologists, mates and start-up founders Dr Jamie Flynn, Dr Antony Martin and Dr William Palmer.

THE very human desire to avoid hard labour has inspired three biologist mates to invent a product that will be a game-changer in many professions.

Dr Antony Martin, Dr Jamie Flynn and Dr William Palmer met while doing their PhDs at the University of Newcastle and, over a few beers, decided they wanted to “go out there and try something” together rather than take up post doctoral positions. 

Their first idea made headlines: the CLARITY light-sheet, a one-of-a-kind laser microscope with the potential to revolutionise medical research across a range of disease areas.

“Doing that gave us the skillsets in designing optical devices and complex, data-heavy databasing systems,” says Dr Martin. 

The men drew on this experience when they conducted a breeding program on sweet sorghum varieties in Queensland in 2015.

“It was for the purpose of breeding a crop that could produce bio-ethanol, and part of that process required us to cut down thousands and thousands of sorghum plants and run them through a lab to test each one of those plants for the sugar content and other chemical properties,” says Dr Martin.

“We decided we didn’t want to do that [physical work] and instead spent our time coming up with a better way, which is the foundation for our start-up company.”

Their startup, Rapid Phenotyping, is putting the finishing touches on Smart Lab, a hand-held chemistry lab which combines a light-based system and machine learning to conduct an array of chemical tests on the spot.

With seed funding from Hunter Angels, it has received close to $1 million in government grants to build a number of minimum viable products and prototypes. The final Smart Lab device will launch in December.

Rapid Phenotyping is targeting the agricultural sector and has undertaken extensive grain and crop testing research with CSIRO, Department of Primary Industry and farming cooperative.

It is also working with development partners for a range of applications beyond agriculture and the potential in the medical industry alone in area such as blood, urine and saliva testing is huge.

“There is a huge number of applications … and the biggest problem we face is sourcing the data and samples,” Dr Martin says.

 Rapid Phenotyping recently won $100,000 at the LAUNCH pitch festival in Sydney – so too Newcastle food ap startup Crave – and the win will help its ambitions to move into the US.

“It’s more about the exposure and the networks,” says Dr Martin. “One of our key goals is to get this into the US becasue the agricultural market is huge,” he says.