Materials Program Platform Grant: Nanostructured Surfaces

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: School of Physics and Astronomy


Our current EPSRC Materials Program Platform Grant, which started on 1 Dec 2002 and lasts 4 and a 1/2 years, underpins a program of research at Birmingham University into the science and applications of nanostructured surfaces, i.e., well-defined surface systems with lateral feature sizes in the range 1-100nm. Nanostructured surfaces present the possibility to organise, collect and address materials down to the level of individual molecules. The research is conducted in a collaboration between 6 departments at Birmingham (Physics, Materials, Biosciences, Medicine, Environmental Sciences, Chemistry) led by the Nanoscale Physics Research Laboratory (NPRL) headed by REP. The proposal seeks to renew the Platform Grant and thus provide a stable foundation to enable adventurous research projects to be initiated, to sustain the skilled staffing of our highly sophisticated portfolio of experimental equipment, to support the career development of outstanding young researchers and to support and enhance interdisciplinary projects. The proposal is formally submitted by the NPRL Staff (Prof Palmer, Dr Guo, Dr Li, Dr Robinson, Dr Kaplan and Researcher Co-Investigator Dr Chen), and indirectly on behalf of our main collaborators on campus: Prof Heath, Prof Macaskie and Dr Meldrum, Biosciences; Prof Moss, Medicine (Cancer Research); Prof Harrison and Dr Lead, Environmental Sciences; Prof Jones, Materials; and Prof Preece and Dr Johnston, Chemistry. The annual research income of the NPRL is ~600k with a total current grant value above 2M. In 1994 we published a 10 year research strategy for the Lab. This identifies three areas of particular opportunity: (i) the excited states of nanoscale systems, (ii) the interface to molecular biology and (iii) the translation of scientific innovations into industry via applied research. These programs will be underpinned by continuing work on the preparation, atomic structure and characterisation of nanoscale systems, including the development of novel instruments and processes. The research aims of the proposal for renewal mirror this research strategy. Since nanotechnology is regarded as a strategic frontier of both science and technology, the beneficiaries of the work will include both the international scientific community and UK industry.The funding provided will support Dr Yu Chen to run the Nanoscale Science Facility, while the second post will support a series of other post-docs, typically in 6 month stints, who will initiate or complete important pieces of work, often with interdisciplinary character (the first likely appointee is Stefano Palomba on single molecule optical spectroscopy in collaboration with Dr Lead). Support for 50% of a technician, Mr Jag Sangha (included under 'other directly allocated costs'), will provide the stable base of technical support that we also very much need. In the 3 years of the current Platform Grant to date, four research fellows have been supported, working on TEM, variable-temperature STM, atomic manipulation and novel instrument development (scanning probe energy loss spectroscopy and spatially-resolved photoemission). Highlights include our paper in Nature on molecular manipulation at room temperature, which also generated significant media interest. These post-docs have contributed to 30 of the 60 papers generated by the applicants in this 3 year period, together with 50 invited talks, 3 patent applications and 25 media reports. Moreover the research conducted, in conjunction with the strategic review of our research project portfolio, has led to a series of specific research proposals and fellowship applications to EPSRC, DTI, the Royal Society and the EC. Six successful awards have been announced in the last 3 months. We believe that these achievements, together with our 10 year research strategy and the work we are doing in public outreach and industrial support, provide a powerful case for renewal of the Platform Grant.


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Allen JE (2008) High-resolution detection of Au catalyst atoms in Si nanowires. in Nature nanotechnology

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Alshammari K (2020) Optimization of sol-immobilized bimetallic Au-Pd/TiO2 catalysts: reduction of 4-nitrophenol to 4-aminophenol for wastewater remediation. in Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences

Description This platform grant underpinned continuing and extensive work on the preparation, atomic structure and characterisation of nanoscale systems, which included the development of novel instruments and processes, with the global vision of advancing nanotechnology as a strategic frontier of science and technology. Highlights included further developments of the technology to produce nanoscale clusters, with control over both size and composition, which were then used in applications such as protein immobilisation on surfaces and for model catalysis under realistic reaction conditions. The atomic structure of such clusters was examined in the electron micrscope, the findings of which led to a paper in Nature on the three-dimensional atomic struture of size-selected clusters, thus opening the way to correlation of atomic structure with properties. This research was complemented by studies on the atomic manipulation of molecules on surfaces in the scanning tunnelling microscope, thus elucidating mechanisms for molecular dynamics of adsorbed molecules as well bond dissociation (important in understanding mechanisms in chemistry). Additionally, advancements in nanofabrication have been made, for instance, the electron-beam writing of wires in fullerene films and the development of molecular resists for the lithography of semiconductor devices.
Exploitation Route Prospective applications of our findings are numerous and wide-ranging, however the key areas for further exploitation and investigation are in (i) analysis and control of the structure of materials down to the atomic level (in particular nanoparticles and size-selected clusters), and therefore, the correlation of nanomaterial properties with atomic structure; (ii) the applications of such nanomaterials across a range of fields, including catalysis, biotechnology, electronics; (iii) the elucidation of physical and chemical mechanisms (i.e. manipulation of atomic clusters and molecules) at the nanoscale.
Sectors Chemicals,Electronics,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description The research has generated intellectual property (several patents filed or granted during the period of funding), which has further translated into the establishment of several spin-out companies (e.g. Inanovate, Birmingham Instruments, Irresistible Materials). Partnerships with key industrial companies (e.g. Johnson Matthey for catalysts and Teer Coatings for surface coating technology) have enabled us to develop and exploit our technology.
First Year Of Impact 2009
Sector Chemicals,Electronics,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology
Impact Types Economic

Description Advantage West Midlands
Amount £3,054,011 (GBP)
Funding ID AM1 
Organisation Advantage West Midlands 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2008 
End 04/2012