Experimental equipment at UCL

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Office of Vice Provost Research


This is a UCL-wide bid to invest in a range of equipment items to refresh and upgrade our experimental facilities which will help to maintain a cutting-edge in internationally leading research. Each of the bundles included in this proposal contributes to one or more strategic themes, in which UCL, as well as national and international funders, has invested significantly in recent years: Health technologies, Advanced functional materials, Sustainable built environment and Novel information and communication technologies. UCL has considerable strengths in these areas, and we have experienced significant growth in terms of staff and student numbers, and breadth and impact of research activity. This additional investment will therefore provide an ideal platform to ensure the sustained growth of the highest quality research, as well as supporting the early career researchers.

Each bundle identifies a set of items that underpin a range of research activities, often reaching across department and discipline boundaries, which are of strategic importance for UCL and EPSRC. The specific items identified within the bundles have been selected in close collaboration with senior management and individuals and groups working in the area, to ensure that they are aligned with their current needs and have the greatest potential to support maximum impact of their research activities. Each bundle has been allocated a Lead Investigator who will be responsible for regular reporting to the Vice-Provost for Research on progress against objectives.

The four EPSRC challenge themes addressed by this proposal are: Health technologies [bundles 1, 2, 3, 6]; Advanced functional materials [bundles 1, 3, 4, 5, 6]; Sustainable built environments [bundle 7]; and Novel information and communication technologies [bundles 5, 8].

Planned Impact

This proposal aims at acquiring eight bundles of capital equipment items, to upgrade and complement existing experimental resources and facilities within UCL labs, across the Engineering and Physical Sciences Domain. Broadly speaking, we can divide the impact of this proposal into two types: a "direct" impact (on researchers and students, both at UCL and beyond, and on their research) and an "indirect" impact that will be determined by the research enabled by the equipment.

Impact of the first type will be visible on a shorter time-scale, and can be easily measured in terms of improved research capability and performance. In identifying the items requested in this proposal, priority has been given to items supporting areas of high strategic importance for both EPSRC and UCL, in which there is a high level of internationally leading research activity and where UCL hosts a critical mass of researchers at all stages of their career. The benefits will be visible in terms of: training and skills upgrade (PhD students/junior postdocs); supporting the development of independent research careers (senior postdocs/lecturers); and enhanced capability for world-leading, transformative research programmes (established career).

Access to state-of-the-art equipment is also extremely valuable for industry and users, and is often one of the drivers for new collaborations. At UCL we have significant experience in sharing equipment resources with collaborators from both academia and industry, and the bundles included in the proposals will benefit from the presence of all the necessary mechanisms and structures. By upgrading our experimental facilities, therefore, this proposal will enable our research activity to have an impact on UK R&D activity beyond the academic environment.

Impact of the second type will be harder to measure, since it will be both longer term and mediated by the research process itself. Given the timeliness and importance of the challenges we address in the proposal, though, we are confident that there will be a significant benefit to the UK society and economy including (but not limited to) the following:

Developments in health technology [1,2,3,6] have the potential to benefit the UK society and economy (and are in line with the priorities outlined in the EPSRC Healthcare Technologies theme, as well as with the RCUK Lifelong Health and Wellbeing Programme);

Research in advanced functional materials [1,3,4,5,6] has the potential to impact on a variety of sectors, including healthcare (e.g. drug development), energy (e.g. batteries and fuel cells), and ICT (e.g. new devices);

Investigation of novel information and communication technologies [5,8] is crucial to support modern-day society, which relies more and more on high-speed communication and information processing;

Advances in the built environments [7] are crucial in developing a sustainable future, where we are able to balance the requirements of a modern society with the constraints imposed by energy and resource limitations.
Description BUNDLE 1
Instrument installed and running since early 2016, servicing a wide range of projects including
- Battery failure (paper under review)*
- Fuel cell materials imaging (paper under review)*
- Imaging concrete
- Imaging fabrics for defence applications
We completed the commissioning phase of our instrument a few months ago and so far we have been able
to run three experiments - two of which were successful while one will have to be repeated, probably in the
week beginning Mar 6 2017
Of the two successful ones, one is currently being written up as a chapter in a PhD thesis, and data analysis
on the latter was completed last week - we expect both to lead to published papers in due time.

All of the equipment obtained has been used extensively by PhD students across the CDT in Emergent Macromolecular Therapies and from different collaborating HEIs, as well as by other PhD / EngD students and PDRAs across UCL. The AKTA is used extensively for protein purification prior to formulation research, as well as for analytical chromatography to support fermentation and downstream processing research.
The Agilent UPLC provides rapid and small sample analysis of proteins by SEC, IEX and RP-HPLC, and is coupled to the liquid handling and resin screening work in 0.5-1ml columns, undertaken on the Tecan Evo, while also providing standalone analysis of protein aggregates and charge variants in product formulations.
The high-resolution fluorometer measures protein fluorescence lifetimes in the ns time range, and is opening new frontiers for the analysis of product quality in microscale bioprocesses, and product formulations for protein stability and heterogeneity.

Included instrumentation providing the ability to make extremely high resolution measurements on optical and microwave signals.
This has enabled optical frequency synthesis of terahertz signals, including the first demonstration of optically injection locked quantum cascade lasers, where the frequency is exactly related to a primary frequency standard, such as Caesium. This has fully met the objective of controlling the terahertz spectrum with the same accuracy that is possible at radio frequencies. It has also been possible to show that the phase noise of optical comb synthesised terahertz signals is limited by the multiplied phase noise of the microwave reference used. We have used the equipment to make a proof of principle demonstration of THz spectroscopy with unprecedented resolution and frequency accuracy. We have also used the equipment to characterize the first monolithically integrated dual DFB laser source and UTC device, with up to 100 µW generated at 120 GHz (through an international collaboration with III-V Laboratories, France.)

- That the formation of quadruply folded DNA structures strongly depend on the rest of the DNA molecule in which they are formed. Such DNA quadruplexes are intensively studied in the context of anticancer therapies.
- That an attack mechanism of the immune system, operating by punching holes, becomes dysfunctional if only a fraction of its hole-punching proteins ("perforin") is deficient.

We have used the system to develop a new, multimodal imaging technique (lab-based beam-tracking micro CT, see above Phys. Rev. Appl. paper). The harder spectrum created by the W anode has also enabled us to cast new light on the implications of implementing edge-illumination (EI) based x-ray phase contrast imaging with high-energy. Higher energy means thicker x-ray masks need to be fabricated, and this leads to side effects which we had previously been able to neglect; namely angular cut-off at the sides of the field of view, and total reflection of x-rays from the inner walls of the mask apertures. While the former effect was known to other implementations of phase contrast which use finer mask/gratings pitches (but never observed in EI), to the best of our knowledge the latter has never been observed before in a phase-contrast imaging context. These effects will influence the future design of imaging systems aimed at high x-ray energy applications. Finally, through another grant (EP/P023231/1), we are testing source performance following an anode swap (with Cu, for a softer spectrum) and introduction of a dedicated x-ray focusing optics system, through which we are planing to develop a soft x-ray microscope to investigate soft biological tissue at the cellular level.
Exploitation Route The equipment has been set up and is now running, as per our original submission. The capabilities thus enable will facilitate the delivery of new research which is likely to be either taken forward by us (or put to use by others), but it is still early to give details.
Sectors Chemicals,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description BUNDLE 3 Demonstrations of high data rate wireless transmission enabled by the equipment funded by this grant have increased interest in the use of THz frequencies for future wireless systems. The technology is now under active investigation by companies such as Huawei for use in 5G+ communications systems. BUNDLE 6 The award has facilitated the study of antibody drugs as they bind to their targets located on the cell surface, which has given our industrial collaborator MedImmune scientific insights that may facilitate their drug development and approval. For the imaging equipment - Impact is mostly academic for the time being; the activities are based around developing new imaging techniques, so translation takes time
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description BBSRC Standard Grant
Amount £458,449 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/N015487/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2016 
End 10/2019
Description EPSRC Future formulation of complex products
Amount £2,500,000 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Description Enabling rapid liquid and freeze-dried formulation design for the manufacture and delivery of novel biopharmaceuticals
Amount £2,380,872 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/N025105/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2016 
End 06/2021
Description Healthcare Impact Partnership
Amount £948,478 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P023231/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2017 
End 01/2021
Description Low-complexity transceivers
Amount £219,500 (GBP)
Organisation Huawei Technologies 
Sector Private
Country China
Start 03/2017 
End 02/2018
Description MERL 4-year donation
Amount $100,000 (USD)
Organisation Mitsubishi Electric 
Sector Private
Country Japan
Start 03/2016 
End 03/2020
Description Microsoft studentship
Amount £71,650 (GBP)
Organisation Microsoft Research 
Department Microsoft Research Cambridge
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2016 
End 10/2019
Description Programme Grant
Amount £6,517,861 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P021859/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2017 
End 05/2022
Description RAEng Early Career Fellowship
Amount £500,000 (GBP)
Organisation Royal Academy of Engineering 
Sector Learned Society
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2016 
End 11/2021
Description UK IC Postdoctoral Research Fellowship
Amount £188,396 (GBP)
Organisation Royal Academy of Engineering 
Sector Learned Society
Country United Kingdom
Title Optical test bed software-defined network optical transmission 
Description Software-defined test bed for experimental investigation of long-haul fibre optical transmissions systems. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Extended test-bed infrastructure used for a number of key experiments and evaluation of of new components/fibres/devices/subsystems. This now includes 16 ECL lasers and an SS-ASE, digital transceiver with 12x92 GSample/s 8-bit digital-to-analogue converters (DAC). This means we can generat signals with a symbol rate up to 64GBd, compared to 10GBd previously. We can also now perform high order modulation formats up to 256QAM. The test bed has been updated for full C-band transmission capability using the following: - Spectrally shaped amplifier spontaneous emission noise (SS-ASE) to emulate the generation of full C-band transmission - 3xHigh power (33 dBm output power) optical amplifiers (EDFAs) to transmit full C-band - A recirculating optical loop with state-of-the-art optical fibres is used for long haul C-band transmissions. Specialist fibres now include Corning® Vascade® EX2000. We also have use of anti-resonant hollow core fibre produced by Southampton University Optical Research Centre. Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories used the test bed for a joint MERL-UNLOC paper on a dual-carrier 1Tb/s signal generation, suitable for current commercial systems. Aston University, as part of the UNLOC programme, have also used this test bed for joint work to analyse nonlinearity. Joint work with Southampton University to characterise the new anti-resonant hollow core fibre. The test bed was used for joint work with Corning on a single span transmission, where we achieved a record spectral efficiencyxdistance product. Joint work underway with Xtera to extend transmission bandwidth beyond C and L band. Numerous resulting publications presented at OFC and ECOC during 2015/16/17. 
URL http://unloc.net/index.php/research/facilities
Title Example GMI database 
Description The metric generalised mutual information (GMI) can be used to estimate the performance of a soft-decision binary forward error correction algorithm. This research brought the metric to the attention of the optical networks community, and provided an example set of GMI-BER (bit error rate) relations. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The work has already informed the development of coded modulation in optical communications systems, and has been referenced 38 times in the literature to date (March 2017). 
Title Reduced subset of probabilistically shaped constellations for finite penalty 
Description A methodology and reference example for the design of practical probabilistically shaped modulation formats was developed. It was shown that, for the reference example, that just four constellations could be used to approximate the continuous distribution of shaped constellations for <0.1 dB SNR penalty. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This methodology has been used in a range of subsequent optical communications research investigating probabilistic shaping. 
Title Transceiver noise-Gaussian noise model 
Description This model enables the accurate prediction of an optical fibre communication system performance when nonlinearity has been compensated in the presence of transceiver (transmitter and/or receiver) noise. This allows both better transmission system design, but also opens an avenue of research into signal-to-noise ratio improved transceivers. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Within our group, this research has informed transmission experiments, as well as research direction. 
Description Huawei 
Organisation Huawei Technologies
Country China 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Development of next generation low complexity transceivers for future access networks.
Collaborator Contribution Funding agreement and provision of optical and electronic components. This follows a series of previous collaborations with Huawei in digital signal processing and coherent optical communication systems
Impact Agreement signed.
Start Year 2016
Description Hyperhighway 
Organisation National Institute for Health Research
Department NIHR Southampton Respiratory Biomedical Research Centre
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have used UNLOC equipment and expertise to characterise antiresonant hollow core fibre
Collaborator Contribution Provision of antiresonant hollow core fibre for characterisation and exerimentation.
Impact Publications in submission
Start Year 2016
Description LCN/Bruker Partnership 
Organisation Bruker Corporation
Department Bruker Nano
Country Germany 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The LCN AFM lab has been designated as Bruker's key partner in the development of high-resolution, high-speed AFM imaging for biological applications.
Collaborator Contribution The LCN AFM labs have been equipped to include the latest Bruker AFM technology. Broker is also co-sponsoring a 4-year PhD studentship
Impact This collaboration tackles key challenges at the interface between physical sciences and life sciences
Start Year 2015
Description MERL 
Organisation Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Occasionally we provide our research facilities and lab equipment to partners from MERL to conduct a variety of testing.
Collaborator Contribution MERL is a valuable research partner with which we exchange and share ideas particularly in the area of DSP for high-capacity optical receivers. Recently our collaboration was features in an official press release from Mitstubishi, one of 15 highly competitve press news to come out of the company during a press conference in Japan in Feb 2016 ( see http://www.mitsubishielectric.com/news/2016/0215.h tml?cid=rss). MERL also provides a yearly charitable donation of $20 000 to the Optical Networks Group. In March 2016, MERL pledged to donate $25,000 to the UCL Optical Networks Group every year for a 4-year period. This has now started and work is in progress with new outcomes.
Impact publications, press release ( see http://www.mitsubishielectric.com/news/2016/0215.h tml?cid=rss), media coverage, joint experiments
Start Year 2013
Description Oclaro equipment 
Organisation Oclaro
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Intellectual expertise to perform experiments using Oclaro modulators as part of UNLOC experimental work
Collaborator Contribution Provision of advanced optical modulators and sources for the UCL Optical Networks Lab and UNLOC experimental programme to guide the development of next generation components and subsystems. Most recent devices provided in December 2016. A new programme of joint experiments is planned in 2017 including the use of semiconductor optical amplifiers.
Impact Publications from joint experiments, insights on next generation system design and management of nonlinearity in advanced optical communication systems. Direct contribution to the development of digital communications infrastructure.
Start Year 2012
Description Quantum Communications Hub 
Organisation Quantum Communications Hub
PI Contribution The ultra high resolution optical spectrum analysis capability has been used in the testing of National Dark Fibre Infrastructure Service fibre transmission paths that are used for quantum key distribution field trials.
Collaborator Contribution Quantum key distribution experiments.
Impact Quantum key distribution field trials.
Start Year 2016