Surrey wins £1 million award for advanced Focused Ion Beam microscope
An interdisciplinary bid by the University has won a highly competitive EPSRC Strategic Equipment Award, putting Surrey at the leading edge of research in materials characterisation in the UK.
The successful bid was made possible by a strong team which brought together the University’s expertise in surface chemical analysis, electron microscopy and Focused Ion Beam (FIB). There was also significant support for the project from NPL (National Physical Laboratory), both in terms of related equipment and technical expertise.
The team included Principal Investigator Professor John F Watts FREng and Dr Mark Whiting of the Department of Mechanical Engineering Sciences, and Dr David Cox who works jointly across Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute and NPL.
Worth around £1 million, the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) award will fund an Integrated Plasma Source FIB with Scanning Electron Microscope – one of only two machines of its kind in the UK (the other being at University of Manchester). The equipment, which is able to look at pieces of material in 3D at the nanometre to 0.1 millimetre scale, can also cut materials 60 to 100 times faster than traditional gallium FIB, enabling researchers to analyse far bigger samples than was previously possible and gain statistically realistic data. This will allow Surrey to further develop its expertise in FIB – enabling state-of-the-art development of novel electronic and functional devices, as well as characterisation of structural materials from wood to next generation titanium composites.
Due to be installed at Surrey in early 2017, the new equipment will enable new developments in fields including advanced structural aerospace materials, additive manufacture, and materials performance and degradation, as well as quantum devices. One of the key routes for external companies to use the facility will be through the University’s EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in MiNMaT (Micro and NanoMaterials and Technologies). This programme enables organisations to employ a high calibre Engineering Doctorate student to work on a four-year technical research project within the company, drawing on Surrey’s material characterisation facilities.
Professor Watts says, “I believe the main reason why our bid to EPSRC was successful was that we really hit the spot in terms of something that will deliver an important technological and scientific lead for the UK. This is an incredibly important addition to our materials characterisation activities at Surrey: it puts us at the top of the tree.”
The University of Surrey is the only institution to have won two EPSRC Strategic Equipment awards in the recent round. Principal Investigator Dr Mel Bailey of the Department of Chemistry also won an award to fund IBA-DAPNe, a new system for sub-micron scale molecular speciation and quantification.