Dynaxion emerged from the FasTrackathon with CERN held by HighTechXL in summer 2018. The aim of this event was to investigate whether technologies developed at CERN could also be promising for other applications outside of high-energy physics. Three startups emerged from this FasTrackathon: Incooling, Aircision and Dynaxion.

Dynaxion makes use of a special patented particle acceleration technology developed by CERN – the so-called High Frequency Radio Frequency Quadrupole (HF-RFQ) technology. Based on this technology, Dynaxion is developing a highly accurate parcel scanning system for drugs, weapons, explosives and other illicit goods.

Innovation Origins asked Joost van de Griendt (Co-founder and Chief Business Officer at Dynaxion) to tell us more about the company and its work.

How do you use the particle accelerator technology?

With the particle accelerator, you can generate neutrons. If you bombard a parcel or a suitcase with these neutrons, you can literally make spectra of the materials inside, and thus see what’s inside the parcel or suitcase. With this technology, we want to make a scanner for airports and parcel facilities.

What problems does Dynaxion solve and why is this important?

Unfortunately, there are terrorism threats and increasing drug smuggling. Both have a great impact on our safety and security. For example, in the USA more than  60,000 people die every year from a drug overdose, and most of those drugs come to the country via international mail. This increasing problem in the USA is known as the ‘Opioid Crisis’.

Illicit and dangerous goods are transported via parcels, suitcases and freight all over the world. They can contain explosives, drugs, batteries, smuggle wear and many other dangerous things. Current technologies are still not accurate enough to detect with 100% certainty what is inside a parcel or a suitcase. Also, it’s because terrorists and smugglers are, of course, trying hard to hide their goods. Current scanning technologies are mostly based on X-ray and computed tomography (CT scan) and make use of images. These can only discriminate, not identify. And they often require human interpretation, which is costly and time-consuming. Dynaxion technology is disruptive because we make use of a different approach. We use neutrons – not X-rays, and we produce spectra – not images. This way we can take a large step in the accuracy of detection.

Radio Frequency Quadrupole (RFQ) of CERN Photo © CERN

What is the biggest obstacle to overcome?

Our biggest obstacle is funding. For all startups, funding is an issue. In our case, I think, it’s a bigger challenge because we do not have a prototype yet. We need to build a very complex system. It is not something you can build in your garage or at home for a few thousand dollars. This means we require substantial funding at a very early stage. For regular investors, this is often too risky to step in. The risk for investors may be high, but on the other hand, the rewards will be greater, because Dynaxion can become a successful high-tech industry in the Brainport region.

Was there a moment when you wanted to give up?

I think any startup is like a roller-coaster: there are lots of ups and lots of downs. The downs can be deep, but luckily the ups are very high. And I think that is what most entrepreneurs like. As for me, I like that roller coaster! Also, as a real entrepreneur, I am not giving up quickly when there is a down because you know that there will be another up.

Are there accomplishments that made you proud of your work?

The Opioid Detection Challenge has been our biggest achievement so far because it takes place in the US, and it’s not so easy to attract attention in the US when you are a Dutch company. So that was a great accomplishment. Secondly, if you look at the finalists of the Opioid Detection Challenge, you’ll find they are all well-established companies that have been in the industry already for 30-40 years. We are just a startup, so it’s a very special achievement to be named a finalist. But we have more achievements to mention! We won in the “Lightweight” division at the Get in the Ring Global Meetup, a startup pitching competition in Berlin. We were competing with hundreds of other startups in our category. We won because we are a young company with technology that has the potential for a massive social impact.  So, this victory is a nice accomplishment for us.

What can we expect from you the coming year?

The final of the Opioid Detection Challenge will be at the end of October. Hopefully, we’ll do well there! The winner receives a further €500K and the second-place winner receives €250K. We continue working on funding, and we expect to announce we have additional funding in the coming months. Also, we are working on building a prototype – it is a complex system and we cannot do it on our own. We are talking to potential partners to work on this prototype, for which we are creating a technical consortium. It is an international consortium, but we particularly want to find partners in the Eindhoven region. Our goal is to make Dynaxion a Brainport company. In the coming half a year, I hope to announce that we have formed a consortium with well-known partners from the Eindhoven region. It is really important for us because we believe the Brainport region has a lot of potential for the high-tech industry and for deep-tech startups like Dynaxion.

What is the ultimate goal of Dynaxion?

Philosophically speaking, our ultimate goal is to make the world safer, because we are working in the area of safety and security. For example, sometimes people carry too many batteries in their luggage because they don’t understand the danger.

The Security equipment market is a crowded space with a lot of expensive equipment. Hopefully, in a few short years, we will have built our prototype. Shortly afterwards, our scanner will be making the world a safer place by foiling terrorist activity at airports all over the world. And we hope to assist US government agencies like Homeland Security and US Customs and Border Patrol curb the international mailing of opioids and save some of those 60,000 Americans who die each year of an opioid overdose. However, our greatest ambition is to become the ASML of security equipment.

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