South of England Analytical Electron Microscope [ATEM]

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Materials


The UK has for many years held a leading position and pioneered the use of transmission electron microscopy in the study of every class of engineering material. This proposal is to install a state-of-the-art fast acquisition and high-throughput analytical transmission electron microscope (ATEM) as a regional research facility for a group of universities in the South of England: Oxford, Bristol, Southampton, Exeter, Surrey, and Bath. Southampton and Bath Universities are founder members of the EPSRC-funded UK HE Facilities and Equipment Sharing Network Uniquip, and this application embraces the network aims to increase the visibility of and access to research equipment within and between institutions.

Supported by a strong local infrastructure in Oxford, the instrument will allow us to address key analytical problems and generate greater impact in projects of strategic importance in the research groups of 23 academic staff in the 6 partner universities, working on projects with >20 industrial partners. The specific theme areas we have selected to work on will use the ATEM to contribute to the development of novel materials across a wide range of engineering themes, including power generation, semiconductor materials, nanotechnology and catalysis, and to assist UK industry to maintain competitiveness and grow market share.

Planned Impact

The primary purpose of this new shared instrument is to enable and accelerate a broad portfolio of research projects, so much of the intended impact will be captured in the traditional manner - excellent papers in highly respected international journals and presentations at the major specialist conferences. The applicant team from the 3 partner and 3 associate universities have an excellent track record of publication and dissemination with co-authors in UK and international industry as well as many other UK HEIs, and we are confident that the new instrument will expand the visibility and impact of UK analytical microscopy and the project areas that it supports.

In addition:

[1] It is our intention throughout the project to look for new scientific partners - especially in the South and South West - who can bring exciting new experiments to the new instrument. We are confident that there will be many opportunities to expand the user base.

[2] A central feature of our vision for the new instrument is that it will help the university partners deliver important new results and understanding to our industrial collaborators. This is not an activity that will have to be built up from scratch as the investigators already hold a substantial portfolio of projects funded by industry, but the range, depth and significance of the output on problems that are both scientifically extremely challenging and of direct and immediate commercial relevance will be substantially increased by the availability of a genuinely state-of-the-art machine.

We propose a number of key performance indicators (KPIs) to enable the Steering Board to evaluate the impact of the ATEM and to provide evidence for redefining during the project the management strategies for the instrument.
The number of publications and presentations of research that makes use of the instrument.
The number of user days provided by the instrument
Instrument uptime.
The number of new users trained on the instrument.

These KPIs will be evaluated on a quarterly basis, and reviewed by the Steering Board who will then recommend to the Allocation Panel changes in emphasis or direction in work scheduled on the ATEM.


10 25 50

Description In support of our ongoing research relationships with industrial collaborators. the ATEM microscope has been used to generate new results on (a) the atomic scale degradation mechanisms of operating battery materials, (b) the damage mechanisms of nuclear materials under corrosion and irradiation conditions and (c) to advance the understanding of new analytical techniques using aberration-corrected microscopy.
Exploitation Route (a) In the design of new battery materials and designs (as part of the UK Faraday Institution)
(b) in the design of new corrosion resistant alloys for use in future nuclear power plant
Sectors Electronics,Energy

Description This instrument has been used to carry out fundamental research on a large number of projects with industrial partners, including on the performance of battery materials in-operando and the atomic structure of catalyst particles. These studies have lead to modifications in industrial practice in the manufacture of these functional materials.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Chemicals,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Economic

Description Collaboration with Shanghai University 
Organisation Shanghai University
Country China 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have hosted visitors from Shanghai University during 2019 where they have familiarized with our unique high-resolution characterization methodology. They have characterized samples from our collaborative projects and learn how to analyse the data. This will be the basis for future joint publications and joint projects.
Collaborator Contribution As an International Expert Group Member of Shanghai University, I visit China twice per year. During my visits we discuss current and future collaborations and review joint publications. At present, three manuscript have been prepared and submitted to international journals. The topics covered were already presented at international conferences (e.g. Int Symp on Environmental Degradation of Materials in Nuclear Power Systems)
Impact Joint contributions to the 19th Int Symp on Environmental Degradation of Materials in Nuclear Power Systems: -Coupling effect of charged-hydrogen and cold work on oxidation behavior of 316L stainless steel in deaerated high temperature water -Characteristics of oxide films formed on 309L and 308L stainless steels in simulated PWR primary water -Diffusing hydrogen effect on the oxide film on 316L SS in simulated PWR secondary side water -Stress corrosion cracking of stainless steel cladding layers in simulated PWR primary water -Effect of post weld heat treatment on microstructure and PWSCC of Alloy 52M weld metal in dissimilar metal weld joint -Effect of weld dilution and dendrite orientation on PWSCC behavior of Alloy 52M weld metal -Microstructural Evolution of 52M weld metal near the fusion boundary and oxide films formed in simualted PWR primary water
Start Year 2019
Description JEOL / PN Detector 
Organisation Jeol UK Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Demonstration of applications of prototype fast pixelated STEM detector.
Collaborator Contribution Loan of prototype fast pixelated detector.
Impact See publications linked to this award with JEOL co-authors.
Start Year 2015
Description Interview for French national news 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact In Dec 2019 I was awarded the first Excellence in Nuclear Reactor Science in the UK Award by Framatome. The ceremony took place in the French Embassy in London and I was interviewed by the French TV, by Framatome for their podcast and by the written press. Extracts from these interviews can be found in YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. I talked about our advances in understanding materials properties and problems by looking at atoms and how important the contribution from academia was for such important industrial challenges.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description School Visit (Botley School, Oxford) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Y3 students were introduced to Microscopy and Exploring the Nanoworld as part of the Science Week (STEM). Around 60 students plus teachers were present. I used a presentation with videos and pictures from my research (nuclear energy, catalyst nanoparticles and sample preparation for electron microscopy). Importance of understanding materials by looking at atoms was explained. A 30 min discussion with Q&A followed. The students engaged well and have been asking questions ever since. A 2nd visit this year has already been planned.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Talk to university admin staff 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The University of Oxford organizes staff team days where they become familiar with aspects of the university that they are not usually exposed to, for example research. This year, I was invited to talk about my group research and I chose the topic of "Understanding degradation of materials in nuclear reactors". I expanted the topic so that the audience could also appreciate how our characterization techniques allowed the understanding of "big" problems by looking at "small" volumes (where atoms are observed directly). I believe the audience enjoyed it very much, since there were many questions afterwards and, as a result, many members of the admin team now recognize me and my research and told me they feel more engaged and "valued".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Undergraduate demonstration of TEM capabilities 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Every year I organize demonstrations in our research labs to familiarized groups of interested undergraduate students with our rearch projects. I use the characterization of cracks in nuclear reactor materials as they are perfect to illustrate how the failure of a several tonnes component can be understood by looking at the changes of a few atoms around a crack tip. All students are enrolled in our Materials Science undergraduate degree and the main purpose of this activity is to establish tangible links between the topics they study in their lectures and lab practicals and the "real" research that goes on in the department (most of the time, unnoticed by them). The outcome is always very rewarding, since I schedule the demo for 1.5h per group, but the number of questions and requests aftwerwards easily take the session beyond the 2h duration. Many of the undergraduate students will hopefully be interested enough in my research area to apply for a DPhil project in my group.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019