My Professional Story
After getting my Electronic Engineer degree (June 1970) at ENSERB in Bordeaux, I went to Grenoble to complete a Ph.D. in Physics (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Jan 20, 1975) and also spent one year of mandatory service in the Army, (July 73-June 74). Fortunately, I was working in a lab and did not see much of the military lifestyle. In August 1974, after my year in the Army, I went to Paris to work for Cameca, a company that had paid me during my Ph.D. studies and my military service (although half), on a new superconducting 350 MHz NMR spectrometer. In the middle of 1977, they decided to stop the activity.
So, I went to Germany (Offenbach-am-Main) working as European Application Manager for a Californian company named Nicolet, which I had known for quite some time. Germany is a tough place to work: if it has to be square and you make it round and it works, you’re wrong.
On February 14, 1979, I flew on flight National NA-3 from Frankfurt to Miami (DC-10),
and then on to Mountain View, CA to work for Nicolet as an Application Scientist (yellow arrow):
In Nov 1977, Harvard made me an offer I could not refuse: “come work for us and we will give you a green card”. I started my new job on January 2, 1980 at the Department of Physiology at Harvard Medical School, in charge of a brand new 360 MHz Wide-Bore NMR spectrometer. That was fun. In 1981, I had a paper published in Science which got me a lot of attention. At that time, it was generally accepted that you could not get MR images of anything other than proton (H1), certainly not above 10 MHz, and certainly not of a moving object. The paper describes Sodium-23 (Na23) MR images of a perfused beating rat heart (diastole and systole) obtained at 95 MHz. Gated sodium-23 nuclear magnetic resonance images of an isolated perfused working rat heart
During the last 6 months of 1982, I got 12 job offers!
I decided to join the Radiology Department of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. They were offering me $800,000 (it was 1983!) to start my own lab dedicated to Magnetic Resonance Imaging. At that time, only small-bore magnets were available to study animals. I recruited a wonderful team, and together, we achieved some very impressive results, one of them being ahead of GE that had a team working on the same subject.
In 1982, while Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School, I was designing and building a complete observe channel (transmitter and receiver) for an NMR experiment that involved looking simultaneously at Proton (H1) and Phosphorous (P31) resonance properties of a perfused beating rat heart in a 20 mm sample tube, the first channel being provided by a commercial spectrometer.
At that time, several scientists were designing their own NMR instruments: Dave Ruben at MIT, Dick Wittebort in Louisville, Bob McKay in St Louis, Bob Santini at Purdue, Rudi Nunlist at Berkeley, to name a few. It seemed a good idea to offer other scientists a proven design to upgrade their NMR spectrometers.
The NMRkit was then created, the name coming from the concept which, at that time, was very successful. The NMRkit had two different versions: the one to build with all the necessary parts including printed circuit boards, and the one already built and tested. The name of Tecmag was used as the manufacturer of the NMRkit. Flyers were sent to numerous scientists, thanks to the Experimental NMR Conference (ENC) mailing list.
Interestingly enough, the first product delivered by Tecmag was not the NMRkit. In early 1981, the Cardiology Department of Hershey Medical School was highly interested in P31 NMR studies of the heart. They had just acquired a TMR (Topical Magnetic Resonance) from Oxford Instruments, an instrument that was focusing the magnetic field into a "ball" of roughly 20mm (with spikes in every directions, not exactly localized but they did not tell you!). Dissatisfied with the computer system, they had asked me to upgrade their system with a Nicolet computer, which I did. They also wanted to perform proton decoupling experiment on this same instrument for which no device existed. I built the decoupler, the DECkit, which was installed in October 1982. (got on my 750 cc Honda motorcycle to deliver it; Boston - Hershey: 400 miles - 7 hours !).
When I joined the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston in June 1983, I decided to incorporate Tecmag in Texas as a C corporation, which was done on May 6, 1983. After staying at UTHealth for another 2½ years, I decided to work full time at Tecmag and started Dec 21, 1985; I hired my first employee, Woody Kim, in April 1986. One company (MRW) in Houston had just ordered 3 NMRkits and another in Philadelphia (Phospho-Energetics) had ordered 5 pulse programmers. The future was looking bright!
At the 1987 ENC in Asilomar, we introduced the Scorpio, a μVAX-based Real-Time NMR Station with complete NMR software called PULSE-123.
Soon after, the μVAX manufacturer, Digital Equipment, upgraded their OS and FORTRAN with an outrageous cost. Consequently, sales for the Scorpio went down.
Around that time, the Macintosh II computer was being introduced and at the 1988 ENC in Rochester, the Macintosh-based LIBRA was unveiled with its associated software package, Pulse 1-2-3 (we recycled the name). For the first time in the industry, we were providing our customers with a completely graphical pulse programming platform! Interfacing the LIBRA and its variations (a.k.a. the Zodiac consoles) to various commercially available consoles by Bruker, JEOL, Varian, Nicolet, GE, etc. became the main focus of the company.
1989 saw the birth of the Tecmag NMR Quiz which was one of the great attractions at the ENC through 2004. After correctly answering 8 questions on NMR / Tecmag history and technology, attendees had a chance to win a Macintosh computer (1989-1996), a digital camera (1997-2002) and a PC Laptop (2003-2004)!
A few things happened in the following years. First, changes at Apple gave some indication that the Macintosh might not be the platform of choice for controlling Tecmag hardware for the years to come. Consequently, the company began to transition MacNMR software to the Microsoft Windows operating system running on a majority of PCs. Secondly, while selling the Zodiac systems, work was started on developing Tecmag's first complete NMR console including RF synthesis and in 1997 the company introduced the APOLLO with NTNMR running on Microsoft Windows NT. With the APOLLO, the customer only needed to supply the magnet, probe, and RF amplifiers making it an ideal system for console replacements and do-it-yourselfers alike.
The following year, the DSPect and the ORION were introduced for customers still looking to upgrade existing consoles like the Bruker AC300. Both products were based on the Apollo architecture and controlled by NTNMR.
In response to market demands for even more of a complete console-replacement solution, the DISCOVERY was introduced in 2000, and it could include a RT shim power supply, VT controller, MAS spin speed controller, "magnet leg", and high power RF amplifiers--customers only need a magnet and probe. The DISCOVERY and APOLLO were able to be configured for use in NMR, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and nuclear quadrupole resonance (NQR).
In the early 2000s, Microsoft moved away from Windows NT, and Tecmag's software was renamed TNMR. Unknown to most, Tecmag became an Original Equipment Manufacturer for multiple clinical imaging companies who used (and are still using) hundreds of Apollo MRI systems controlled by TNMR in their scanners operating worldwide.
With a growing interest around the globe for field-deployable technology for NMR and NQR, Tecmag was also approached on a number of occasions with requests for a small scale, portable or benchtop spectrometer configuration.
In 2006, through an NSF SBIR grant, the first commercially available portable NMR console, the LapNMR, was unveiled. Capable of fitting in a backpack, running on a 12V flatpack battery, and controlled by a laptop PC, the LapNMR continues to be popular for work out in the field, in hazardous industrial environments, and in academic settings as a demonstration/teaching system.
In 2009, Tecmag unveiled a new spectrometer based on a scalable high-speed bus architecture to replace the Apollo: the REDSTONE. Unlike the Apollo, the Redstone is capable of being configured with almost any number of transmitters, receivers and gradient channels. The SCOUT, a new portable system based on the Redstone architecture and with improved specifications over the LapNMR, was soon released thereafter in 2011.
In October of 2018, after 35 years of being President, I sold Tecmag to Avingtrans PLC subsequently becoming a subsidiary of superconducting-magnet designer/producer Scientific Magnetics Ltd. I stepped down as President of the company and am operating as a technical consultant until Sep 2021.
My business cards over the years:
The Japanese Version:
A flyer in Chinese
On April 29, 1991 there was a paper published in the Houston Post entitled “Grants Putting Life into High-Tech”. The following photo was the centerspread:
Going to Tecmag, probably on a Sunday, never wore shorts during weekdays.
April 7, 1999
We were planning to write a grant to NIH and the deadline was April 30. We had a lot of questions and the answers depended from two companies, one in Champaign (IL) and the other in Oakridge (TN). Only way to do it in one day: charter a plane. This was a Learjet 25. We left Houston-Hobby (HOU) at 7:30 am and were back at 7:30 pm. Mission accomplished but we did not get the grant.
Thirteen years later, that plane crashed in Iturbide, Mexico.