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Updated: July 27, 2020

Geologist Mark Smith’s Macropod puts small creatures in full focus

Photo | Contributed Mark Smith and his wife Annette Evans co-own Macroscopic Solutions.


Category | First Generation — Tolland-based Macroscopic Solutions

If you read a news story about giant “murder hornets” descending on the U.S. this spring, you may have seen images captured with Macroscopic Solutions’ technology.

Geologist Mark Smith founded the Tolland startup in 2013 to develop and commercialize the Macropod, a portable microscope photography system that takes striking, ultra-high-resolution, full-color images of some of the smallest creatures in the natural world.

Longtime client Mark Buffington, an entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, confirmed the identity of the world’s largest hornet when it was seen for the first time in North America late last year. He used the Macropod to document the wasp. The images were featured in Smithsonian Magazine and elsewhere, Smith said.

“The images [generated by the Macropod] are very sharp, very high in clarity, and they’re great for digitizing small materials for research or just digitizing standard materials that you can then observe, share and publish on,” Smith said.

While in high school in Pennsylvania, Smith worked on a prototype for the Macropod with his neighbor, Anthony Gutierrez, an entomologist who was studying ticks and mosquitoes for the U.S. Army Institute of Public Health.

“At the time they were using [an imaging] system that would do what our system does, but not nearly as high in quality. And the cost was well over $100,000,” Smith said.

Gutierrez was trying to improve the technique and make it more affordable, using a process known as focus stacking. He enlisted Smith’s help in creating an early version of the Macropod, which now fits into a bookbag and sells for about $20,000.

Smith, 31, said he first recognized its commercial potential while doing undergraduate research as a geology major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

“I realized a lot of the materials I was looking at could benefit from this new technology,” he said. He thought other researchers might also find the system useful.

So in 2013, while pursuing his master’s in geology at UConn, he licensed the technology from the Army, developed a business plan and pitched it at a UConn entrepreneurship competition. He won first prize: $15,000.

Today the company, which he owns with his wife, Annette Evans, boasts a client roster that includes NASA, Harvard, the Smithsonian Institution and dozens of universities and natural history museums around the world.

Smith said the company was profitable in its first year, and “continues to grow exponentially year-over-year” without seeking any capital from outside investors.

He continues to innovate and explore new markets, eyeing the oil and gas and environmental/conservation industries with a new system that can image sections of tree, sediment, rock or ice drill core.

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