Pilot Manufacturing with Ultrafast Laser Plasma Implantation (ULPI)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Chemical and Process Engineering


The Ultrafast Laser Plasma Implantation (ULPI) equipment will provide a pilot level research and manufacturing capability for advanced functional materials and surfaces, between the atomic and microscopic scales, . For this Leeds patented technique, we use lasers with a pulse duration in the femtosecond range which is capable of producing high density and high kinetic energy plasma for implantation into a substrate, as opposed to methods to produce surface coatings. The demonstration of concepts, IP and specifications for the pilot ULPI equipment have been developed through ongoing research at Leeds, using equipment originally designed for coatings via femtosecond pulsed laser deposition (fs-PLD), which was RCUK funded (EP/D048672/1). The strategic equipment proposal is aimed at creating a world first small-scale manufacturing capability for ULPI, surpassing many conventional surface modification techniques such as ion-exchange. Furthermore, ULPI can open new doors in the manufacture of advanced materials, where previously no options were available, for example with integrated photonic circuits on glass with active and passive functionalities.

ULPI enables implantation of fs-laser generated plasma species into a variety of glass, semiconductor, metal and ceramic surfaces from custom ion/plasma source materials. These layers can be formed between 10's of nanometres to several micrometres in depth with well-defined sharp interfaces with substrates. This equipment will enable multi-functional hetero-epitaxial materials engineering, which will support not only integrated photonics, but also optoelectronics and electronic circuit fabrication. We are partnering with the Universities of Cambridge, York, Sheffield, Sheffield III-V centre, DSTL and 10 industries to achieve these aims.

At present there is no photonic equivalent to CMOS circuit fabrication for enabling complex multi-functional devices and circuits on a chip, which is the field of photonic integration's main limitation. Our background research in ULPI of inorganic glasses into Silicon/Silica substrates has created a new opportunity for research on ULPI based materials and device fabrication by incorporating multi-target fs-laser ablation induced plasma, which eliminates the need for individual processing chambers and offers a new route to novel manufacturing procedures for the fabrication of PICs combined with standard electronic components which is the main aim of the linked research project SeaMatics (EP/M015165/1).

A further aim of the pilot-ULPI facility is to scale up the fabrication for multi-functional materials with appropriate process monitoring and diagnostic tools to ensure excellent control over photonic, optoelectronic and electronic functions in-situ. While this equipment is for more advanced research into low TRL manufacturing projects, it is also valuable for the final stage TRLs of other more mature technologies which are on the verge of commercialisation.

Planned Impact

The pilot-ULPI equipment will be a World-leading National Facility for Novel Functional Materials Manufacturing. The strong background IP position is the unique feature of the pilot-ULPI equipment that would deliver economic impact. Our earliest impact will be via the spin off Glucosense Diagnostics Ltd (GDL), which is expected to bring the first wearable non-invasive glucose sensor featuring the ULPI material to market in 2016. A key requirement for their product development phase is the demonstration of manufacturability of materials on a commercial scale. Glucosense (NetScientific) already invested £160K and are committed to not less than £750,000 investment over the next 12 months on licensing the IP from Leeds for their pre-product development. The market for the Glucose sensor is currently over £8bn and the only devices available operate by using finger pricking with needles or lancets, which are painful, causes numbing and is a key disincentive for patients performing frequent measurements. This application will directly impact the quality of lives of millions of diabetes patients and reduce costs associated with the management of diabetes and related complications. Considering that £10bn is spend by the NHS on diabetes and related complications this is a huge economic and social impact area. Our strategy is to enhance impact of this sensor device in job and wealth creation by setting the manufacturing in Yorkshire where there is a huge drive to bring new and high-technology manufacturing with the support of Leeds City Region Enterprise (http://www.leedsmanufacturing.co.uk/).

The second area of immediate economic impact will be in glass toughening and printing using ULPI for mobile and wearable devices (smartphones, watches and tablets). This is enabled via a pump-prime funding from EPSRC IAA and Digital Technologies Hub, by creating the "OPTIMUS Glass Project" collaboration with Schott Glass, Glass Technology Services and NSG-Pilkington in the area of toughened glass. For anti-counterfeiting in bottles the discussion and exploratory trials on premier whisky bottles have started with the Ardagh Group (annual revenue of £3.8bn).

The linked SeaMatics project will deliver academic impact via the collaboration with universities of Cambridge, York and Sheffield in the area of photonic materials and devices. The partnering DSTL and 10 industries ensure economic impact for optical communications, Sensors, lighting and optical computing in the £512 bn global photonics market.

The equipment will be used for the training of PhDs and PDRFs in Functional Materials and Device Engineering for Photonics. The strategic overlap with the CDT in Integrated Photonic and Electronic Systems (IPES) at Cambridge will be particularly important in building training programmes that meet industrial requirements as well. At a more general level, the project team is planning to organise public engagement activities whenever the opportunity arises. Specifically, the team will demonstrate and engage in activities with school children, future learners and other interested participants, for example at the Leeds Festival of Science which is held in March every year (http://www.leeds.ac.uk/festivalofscience/) and York festival of ideas (www.yorkfestivalofideas.com) for strengthening the interest in STEM subjects. The White Rose Industrial Physics Academy (www.wripa.whiterose.ac.uk) led by Prof. TF Krauss at York aims to increase the interaction between the undergraduates and industry through project placements will contribute to the impact of the project.


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Description The award has now developed a new ion-implantation process employing only a femtoscond laser for the first time. It is beginning to produce novel materials for applications in energy, photonics, healthcare etc.
Exploitation Route The equipment will be made available to other researchers in the UK and for national and international collaborations. A number of research projects under planning/submission to fully exploit the facility developed with this funding.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Energy,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Security and Diplomacy

Description The award has supported the setting up of two new spinout companies Glucosense Diagnostics Ltd and Optimus Vitrum Ltd for scaling up the materials manufacturing technology required for their commercial product development. The equipment once commissioned will be used to produce materials and methods development for these companies as well as the collaborative manufacturing project supported by EPSRC. A new fully PhD studentship was funded by Xtera Communication whose success is heavily dependent on the new manufacturing equipment. The equipment purchase procedures are complete and it is fully commissioned in 2017 to realise full impact. Three international PhD students are also usign the facility. The facility develop is only one its kind in the world with advanced materials engineering capability.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Energy,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Economic

Description EPSRC CASE
Amount £74,000 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2015 
End 03/2019
Description Glucosense- Seamatic collaboration
Amount £8,479 (GBP)
Organisation Glucosense 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2015 
End 12/2015
Description H 2020
Amount £128,000 (GBP)
Organisation European Commission 
Department Horizon 2020
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 01/2016 
End 12/2017
Description H2020 MSC IF Fellowship
Amount € 200,000 (EUR)
Organisation European Union 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 08/2016 
End 07/2018
Description Xtera Communications
Amount £115,000 (GBP)
Organisation Xtera Communications 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2016 
End 06/2019
Title Optical waveguide/amplifier characterisation facility 
Description A photonics lab with number of lasers, optical spectrum analyser, tunable laser, waveguide manipulation stages, microscopes etc 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Development of high gain optical amplifiers 
Title ULPI 
Description This is a new method for implanting multiple ions in a variety of materials, I particular glass for functionalization. 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2012 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The method has led to the materials platform development for sensors and glass toughening, both of which has been progressed towards new spin offs. 
Title ULPI pilot manufacturing facility 
Description A new manufacturing tool for femtosecond laser plasma implantation on large area substrates 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact New materials platform for Ultramatis Ltd, sensor materials for Glucosense. Other impacts are in progress. 
URL https://engineering.leeds.ac.uk/news/article/329/integrated-photonics-laboratory-opens-at-university...
Description Budapest 
Organisation Institute of Technical Physics and Materials Science (MFA)
Department Centre for Energy Research (EK)
Country Belgium 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The collaboration with the Institute of Technical Physics and Materials Science (MFA) has led to the characterization of materials produced Leeds team in depth and better accuracy. The Rutherford Back Scattering method that MFA has huge expertise enabled the publication of two high impact papers. This enable us to improve the manufacturing process to control the materials compositions and achieve highest ever doping concentrations for Er3+ ions doping in silica.
Collaborator Contribution Partners has provided as measurement of physical properties of femtosecond laser plasma produced thin doped layers on silica using Rutherford Back Scattering and spectroscopic ellipsometry. They also helped us in the analysis and discussion of the data.
Impact Two high impact publications were resulted.
Start Year 2012
Description Politecnico di Milano 
Organisation Polytechnic University of Milan
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution collaborative research on femtosecond laser inscription in glass, we developed new glasses which are suitable for this process.
Collaborator Contribution They investigated the femtosecond laser inscription in glasses developed by us.
Impact A number of high quality publications, new laser inscription setup at Leeds
Start Year 2007
Description xtera 
Organisation Xtera Communications
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution A new PhD studentship for fabricating high erbium doped waveguide amplifiers started in January 2016
Collaborator Contribution Providing training support to the student at their factory
Impact Collaboration just started.
Start Year 2016
Title Implantation of ions generated by laser ablation 
Description A new method to produce codoped waveguides/surfaces with high doping concentration on glass. applicable surface modfication of materials including glassess and polymers 
IP Reference WO2017025759 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2015
Licensed Yes
Impact Licensed to Optimus Vitrum Ltd to develop stronger smartphone screens, funcitonal glass
Company Name Glucosense Diagnostics Ltd 
Description Glcuosense's objective us to develop non-invasive blood glucose monitor for the continuous measurement of blood glucose levels. 
Year Established 2013 
Impact This company also played great part in the AIM listing of the parent company NetScientific and their investment portfolio of over £30M. The glucosense device has attracted a lot of media attention since July 2015. BBC, Sky News, ITV, Yorshire Radio, BBC Radio Leeds, Asianet News, All India Radio and a number of other visual, radio, print and online media reported it all around the world.
Website http://www.glucosense.net
Description The company is started to exploit the ULPI technology developed and patented at Leeds. Seed investment of £600k has been agreed and the company moved into its own premises with excellent R&D facilties . The company will focus on strengthened glass/polymer screens for display devices. 
Year Established 2018 
Impact Improved products are demosntrated in 9 months currently engaged in next stage investment/commercial engagement.
Website http://www.op-vi.com
Company Name Ultramatis Ltd 
Description The company was established based on the proof of concept study supported by EPSRC IAA fund. The postdoctoral fellow fellow worked in this project is currently the CTO of the company. He won the Royal Academy of Engineering ERA Entrepreneurship award for the novel anticounterfeiting technology developed by it. 
Year Established 2014 
Impact The company has secure £100k funding this year (2016) from the investor IP Group and is engaging with a number of bottle manufacturers/packaging companies for the application of its technology for their products. Dr. Matthew Murray who was the post-doctoral researcher with me has become the CTO of the company from 1 January 2016. He won the Royal Academy of Engineering ERA Entrepreneurship award for the novel anticounterfeiting technology developed by him in my research group.
Website http://www.ultramatis.com
Description Asianet News 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact It gave wiser publicity in India and several companies, patients contacted.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgpgjhmyPZg
Description BBC News/ look north 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A lot of interest for business collaboration, technology transfer, participation in clinical trials etc.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-33528250
Description BBC Radio Leeds 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Enquiries on study participation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02x3w15
Description ITV Calendar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A lot of emails, phone calls etc.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.itv.com/news/calendar/2015-07-15/leeds-university-tests-new-blood-glucose-sensor-for-diab...
Description Press release 
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 Press release on the eve of establishing the spinout company Optimus Vitrum Ltd. A number of media outlets published it.

Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/business/how-leeds-university-spin-out-optimus-vitrum-could-revoluti...
Description Sky News report 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The sky news report on noninvasive glucose sensor reached a lot of people. It was aimed at providing the development update on the technology and the formation of Glucosense Diagnostics Ltd.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://news.sky.com/story/1519057/new-diabetes-test-could-offer-real-freedom