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Griffin's great idea: Take lab to sample


Indianapolis Star

Griffin's great idea: Take lab to sample

By Chuck Bowen

June 6, 2007

While studying for a doctorate in analytical chemistry, Dennis Barket spun up the idea for a premier analytical instrumentation company from technology he and a peer had worked on.

Barket, now president and chief executive of Griffin Analytical Technologies, and Garth Patterson, the chief technical officer, have grown their company into a burgeoning presence in the analytical industry.

Along the way, they have revolutionized their field, refining a highly sensitive scanning device called a mass spectrometer -- shrinking and "ruggedizing" the bulky piece of lab equipment to make it portable enough to be transported in a Jeep to the site of a toxic spill or a biological attack.

During the 2000-01 school year, Barket and Patterson laid out their plan to make Griffin a successful company. In just one year, they got it all done: They raised $350,000; wrote up a contract with the U.S military's primary biological warfare agent testing ground; won Purdue's business plan competition and two other nationwide contests; and landed space at Purdue Research Park in West Lafayette.

"We were able to check all those boxes and ran out of excuses to not start the company," Barket said. "We've been running ever since."

Griffin now has 45 employees, and is looking to hire 10 more before the end of the year. Since late 2005, ICx Technologies has been the majority owner, but Griffin still is an independently operated company, Barket says.

In May, the company won a Mira Award in the Advanced Manufacturing Gazelle Company category from the Indianapolis-based trade group TechPoint. The annual awards honor the most innovative companies in the state's tech sectors.

"They're rapidly growing, using technology that will have a global impact," said Jim Jay, TechPoint's president and chief executive. "It really is a use of technology that is grown out of Indiana and will benefit Indiana. They stood out from the crowd in that respect."

That technology is a new, portable gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer, called the Griffin 450. Barket said the technology uses a new handheld scanner called the X-Sorber -- not unlike the tricorders from "Star Trek" -- that a researcher can take out into the field, use to sample the air, and then return to his car to test the sample.

Normally, a researcher would collect a sample in the field and take it back to the 300-pound mass spectrometer in the lab.

The new device -- which has applications in environmental monitoring, industrial spill cleanups and biodefense -- can give results in minutes, not weeks, as other "lo-fi," in-the-field spectrometers do.

"Instead of taking the sample to the lab, you take the lab to the sample," Barket said.

Barket called the Griffin 450 and X-Sorber the "most advanced platform to date," because of its portability and analysis capabilities. He predicts the market could reach $125 million to $400 million.

Graham Cooks, a professor of analytical chemistry at Purdue, worked with Barket and Patterson on their doctoral degrees. Griffin's new mass spectrometer sprung forth from research in his lab.

Cooks and his team of researchers still are working to make mass sp