Lancaster University Experimental Equipment

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Vice-Chancellor's Office


Lancaster University is consistently ranked in the UK Top 10 (the only such NW university), and in the top 1% of universities worldwide. Lancaster plays a key role in the N8 Northern university partnership and the annual Higher Education Business and Community Interaction Survey places Lancaster in the UK top 10 for the number and value of its SME partnerships.

To ensure the highest quality research Lancaster has made targeted investments of over £450m since 2004, with a further £135m planned for the next three years. Targeted and strategic investment is employed to expand in new areas and to improve performance in our current subject strengths. Areas of strength at Lancaster include: research in advanced functional materials; ultra-isolated environments; nuclear materials research; and development and the security of large-scale complex cyber-physical environments, and these four areas make up the themes of the experiment bundles in this application.

Following a very strong performance in RAE 2008, we anticipate a strong outcome in the 2014 exercise to reinforce our position among the UK's very best research-led universities. The experimental equipment highlighted herein will support, refresh and update facilities in these areas. Existing academics in these fields have solid international reputations, and we are also recruiting 50 rising stars in celebration of our 50th anniversary, whose appointment will be strategically aligned to support and develop our very best research.

Lancaster has a strong international presence through strategic international university and industrial partnerships. We collaborate globally on key research issues with international impact. Nationally, Lancaster is a leading research-intensive university. As a key partner in the N8 consortium, Lancaster contributes to the N8 database of assets and follows guidelines set out in the N8 Equipment Sharing Toolkit (N8 EST) to facilitate sharing of equipment between members. New state-of-thert facilities in these key areas will lead to new research collaborations and opportunities - both at a national and international level and help to bring in talented collaborators not only to the UK but to the Northern region.

Demand assessment studies conducted externally on behalf of Lancaster show significant industrial demand for the use of these facilities for their own research and development activities as well as research and innovation projects with the university. Lancaster University has an excellent track record of engaging with SMEs, and since 1998 it has delivered over 50 projects, part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, totaling over £72m, enabling the university to work with over 5000 companies to date.

An essential element of our sustainability model is the promotion of industrial access to our facilities and resources. The university already has in place access arrangements for industry in key facilities (InfoLab21, Lancaster Environment Centre and Engineering), with over 100 company staff currently co-located in facilities in our departments. The new Collaborative Technology Access Programme (cTAP) at Lancaster will develop a business model to provide managed industry access to an increasingly wide range of technologies on the campus, including the facilities highlighted within this proposal. We are developing a single entry route to our facilities, supported by a business-facing group of technical staff and believe we will be the first university to offer this service.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?
This proposal includes 4 bundles of experimental equipment that will directly influence research activities at Lancaster University. Each of the bundles are themed around specific areas of strength at Lancaster which have been highlighted as key strategic areas, with significant funding profiles and international recognition. Within the university the following departments will directly benefit from this investment: Chemistry, Computing and Communications, Engineering, Physics and Psychology. Systems will also be put into place to support access to colleagues and students across the university.
Externally there is documented demand from industry to access the equipment requested and to work with Lancaster on innovation and development. Lancaster has an extensive track record of working with industry both through paid access agreements and through active collaboration. We will develop a business model to provide managed industry access via a single entry route, supported by a business-facing group of technical staff. As a key member of the N8 university consortium our updated facilities will be added to the N8 database of accessible assets to facilitate equipment sharing across the North of England.
In terms of the research generated as a result of obtaining this equipment the benefits are extremely wide reaching and will allow us to deepen relationships with current collaborators as well as attracting new partnerships. In particular we expect this research to be of interest to fellow academics, industry partners, policy makers, governments nationally and internationally, public interest groups and the general public.

How will they benefit from this research?
Increasing the level of facilities in these 4 key areas at Lancaster will directly influence research grant income into the university. It will allow us to engage in new national and international partnerships raising the profile of the North West region by allowing us to exploit the region's top performing areas of science, engineering and technology, where we are on a par with regions such as London (with Imperial College and University College London) and the SE of England (with Oxford and Cambridge). We also expect an increase in 4* publications, conference papers, public engagement events, policy papers and media publications. State-of-the-art facilities will allow us to attract new highly qualified academics to Lancaster and the most promising research students.
Our industrial demand exercise has shown that the investment in experimental equipment will deliver measurable economic impact via direct industry use and collaborative research. These independent assessments have demonstrated real industrial need for the highlighted areas and systems already in place at Lancaster will be further developed to maximize the opportunities available to industrial partners whilst also ensuring the sustainability of the facilities through a fair and considered business model.
Within the Northwest region the Northwest Competitiveness Operational Programme identified Lancashire as the second largest contributor (20%) to the regional economy, and recognised Lancaster University as one of only two drivers of growth in the Lancashire economy. Lancaster University has a strategic focus on enhancing innovation capacity and competitiveness of SMEs. Since 1998 it has delivered over 50 projects, part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, totaling over £72m, enabling the university to work with over 5000 companies to date. These projects have generated over 250 new business and 4300 new jobs. The latest independent evaluation of our business engagement programmes by EKOS Ltd (March 2012) estimates a return on investment of over £15 for every £1 invested, well ahead in value-for-money terms of similar 'science, R&D and innovation infrastructure' interventions, with typical benchmarks of £8 to £9 return per £1 of public investment.


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Bagci I (2019) Resonant-Tunnelling Diodes as PUF Building Blocks in IEEE Transactions on Emerging Topics in Computing

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Bernardo-Gavito R (2017) Extracting random numbers from quantum tunnelling through a single diode. in Scientific reports

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Bradley DI (2016) Nanoelectronic primary thermometry below 4 mK. in Nature communications

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Bradley DI (2017) On-chip magnetic cooling of a nanoelectronic device. in Scientific reports

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Bradley DI (2017) Operating Nanobeams in a Quantum Fluid. in Scientific reports

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Guthrie A (2019) Multimode probing of superfluid 4 He by tuning forks in Applied Physics Letters

Description This grant was used to purchase equipment for the new IsoLab facility at Lancaster University. IsoLab is a beyond state-of-the-art ultralow noise laboratory that has been built with substantial contributions from the Wolfson Foundation, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the J. Moulton Foundation and University funds. The building contains three brand new laboratories where vibration, acoustic noise and electromagnetic disturbance have been drastically reduced to give an "ultra-isolated" experimental environment for new characterisation capabilities in optics, scanning microscopy and the lowest temperatures achievable. The building was completed in November 2016 and opened by Sir Philip Nelson in 2017.
Four major items were purchased with this grant: specialist components for the IsoLab building itself, eg. vibration isolation blocks and airsprings; an Oxford Instruments bottom-loading Triton dilution refrigerator from; a Polytec vibrometer; and a novel Intermodulation Products multiple-channel lock-in amplifier capable of quietly measuring many signals at once.
The Polytec vibrometer, housed in Pod 1 of IsoLab is the fastest and most sensitive non-contact detector available for the study of femtometre-range displacements. A new methodology for measuring novel quantum nano-electro-mechanical systems has been developed. This facility is also being used for ultra-high resolution atomic and molecular imaging studies with the ultimate goal of pushing the limits far beyond what is currently possible. The scanning probe microscopes used here are capable of imaging with picometer resolution. In preliminary measurements in IsoLab we have already observed a five times improvement in our microscopes signal-to-noise ratio of our microscopes.
In Isolab Pod 2 we are investigating basic hardware security components that can be easily integrated into "Internet of Things" environments, which are provably secure. A means to uniquely identify a device, or product, is vital to security as it underpins trust. It is also imperative that these identities cannot be stolen and cloned by malicious parties, and modern communication protocols usually rely on random numbers to achieve this. Our research will produce new hardware to provide secure identities and random numbers. Components with nanometre length scales have unusual properties that are dictated by quantum physics. Our research harnesses these effects, finding practical uses for them in security.
The Oxford Instruments (OI) bottom-loading dilution refrigerator installed in Pod 1 is a next-generation "dry" cryogen-free machine that allows the measurement and characterisation of devices at millikelvin temperatures without the need for expensive liquid helium infrastructure. With this particular machine one can load samples via a cryogenic vacuum lock which drastically reduces the turnaround time between room temperature and cold. We have worked closely with OI on developing new cryogenic technology on two new InnovateUK/EPSRC grants for the commercialisation of new quantum technologies. We have also used this work to bolster ties with the National Graphene Institute (NGI) at Manchester, where we housed the refrigerator before the move into IsoLab. These new partnerships have led to the invention of a new type of magnetic sensor and to prototyping work at OI to create a new cryo-free product.
Exploitation Route The equipment purchased using this grant has been used to support some of the proposed impact activity of IsoLab and aligns with the university strategy of translating an international reputation for research, teaching and training into activities with maximum impact. This facility further underpins the characterisation capability of the Quantum Technology Centre (QTC), a major Lancaster University investment to establish a significant new technology presence in the North West, giving access to industry and academic users to accelerate the pull-through of science to market and bring economic benefit to the region, and the UK. The QTC houses state-of-the-art facilities for creating and measuring new devices, including nanofabrication tools and molecular beam epitaxy reactors for layer-by-layer growth of atomic structures.
The work facilitated by the installation of this equipment in IsoLab has gained the interest of external academic and industrial users, and is being accessed by existing commercial partners, from major corporations Oxford Instruments and Polytec, to new spin-out SMEs such as Lancaster Materials Analysis and Quantum Base. Open access to the IsoLab facility for external users has now further increased the number of academic and industrial stakeholders to include large companies such as Bruker, Jaguar Land Rover and Pilkington Glass.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Energy,Environment,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Retail,Security and Diplomacy

Description The equipment funded by this grant is currently being used in IsoLab, a new building at Lancaster University that provides ultra-isolated laboratory space where the influence of vibration, acoustic noise and electromagnetic disturbance are kept to the absolute minimum. The laboratory has been designed for the study of new phenomena, new materials and new devices, and to drive innovation. It provides access to advanced instrumentation and measurement capability, and training for current and future researchers in academia and industry. Following its commission, IsoLab now houses the best and most sensitive measuring and cooling equipment, along with the provision for ensuring vibration isolation and electromagnetic shielding. This takes controlled environments to a new standard. We are making this user facility available to workers in many fields, national, international, academic and industrial. We are creating impact with the industrial partners who supported us on the grant proposal, and with other new partners already attracted to the capabilities of our new facility and its equipment. The facility comprises three different laboratory "pods" currently devoted to: nano-imaging and spectroscopy (Pod 1); quantum optics (Pod 2); and ultra-low temperatures. Each one is performing new science and demonstrating impact. Microscopes have been used for centuries to enable us to see, study and understand matter beyond the ability of the naked eye. But whilst traditional optical microscopes have had tremendous impact in fields as varied as microelectronics, medicine and manufacturing, Pod 1 uses a different type of microscopy, one not limited by the properties of light, that exploits the interaction of an atomically sharp probe and the surface of the sample. This 'scanning probe' approach allows us to measure objects at their fundamental level - that of individual atoms and molecules - producing ultra-high resolution mapping not only of their surface and shape but also of their thermal, chemical and electrical structure. Potential applications vary from new green energy devices, for example by studying the nanoscale surface of an electrode, to improvements in a range of degenerative health conditions, for example by mechanically mapping protein-folding mechanisms. Pod 2 is currently used to explore and exploit how light interacts with optical devices, materials and components at the quantum level. This research group focuses on the applications of quantum physics to problems in information security - random numbers (essential prerequisites for secure computer systems), identification and secure communications. For example, the group has developed a simple device to produce random numbers without bias, and a system for uniquely identifying tagged objects using imperfections at the atomic scale - which potentially offers 100% secure password-free devices. This work was highlighted at the 2017 Royal Society Summer Science exhibition. We also plan to use ultra-low temperatures to measure with unprecedented precision the optical properties of two-dimensional materials, such as graphene. This will aid our understanding of these exciting new materials. Pod 3 is currently used to study new materials and technologies at extremes of low temperature, where the agitating effects of thermal noise can be ignored and the underlying quantum properties of matter shine through. This work covers blue skies research and the translation of scientific discoveries into applications. We are developing sensors and devices which exploit the unique behaviour of 2D materials such as graphene, while also seeking to reach new levels of isolation and cold for fundamental science. A good example here of real impact is our collaborative work bringing together Lancaster University, Oxford Instruments and the National Graphene Institute, where we have been prototyping a new cryogenic tool and magnetic sensor with InnovateUK backing. This could have potentially far-reaching applications in sectors from healthcare diagnostics though geo-surveying to environmental monitoring.
Sector Electronics,Energy,Environment,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Retail,Other
Impact Types Economic

Description (EMP) - European Microkelvin Platform
Amount € 9,984,192 (EUR)
Funding ID 824109 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 01/2019 
End 12/2022
Description InnovateUK "Accelerating the commercial exploitation of quantum technologies"
Amount £248,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 70971-492147 
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2016 
End 08/2017
Description Oxford Instruments 
Organisation Oxford Instruments
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution This is/was an EPSRC/InnovateUK grant that brought together a team from the Physics Department at Lancaster University and a team from Oxford Instruments to work together on developing a cryofree ultra-low temperature platform for quantum-enhanced sensors. The proposal answered the call "Exploring the commercial applications of quantum technology". The Lancaster team explored the feasibility of new types of cryogenic solid-state magnetic sensors with greater sensitivity and functionality compared with traditional Superconducting Quantum Interference Devices (SQUIDs)
Collaborator Contribution The Oxford Instruments team explored the feasibility of creating a new cryogenic rig that would form a component part of new products utilising quantum-enhanced solid state devices for applications in sensing, imaging, information processing, etc.
Impact Prototype sensor has been made. Prototype cryogenic platform currently under construction. Academic paper submitted as joint submission between Lancaster University and Oxford Instruments. IP protection discussions ongoing. InnovateUK follow-on funding secured.
Start Year 2015
Description New Scientist Live 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A team of 13 academics, postdoctoral researchers and postgraduate students from Lancaster University created a stand to exhibit at New Scientist Live in London (ExCeL centre, 20-23 Sept, 2018). The stand sought to engage the general public to explain and disseminate research taking place in the IsoLab facility at Lancaster. Part of the stand was focused on low temperature physics and experimental techniques of isolation for low temperature experiments. In total, nearly 40,000 people attended New Scientist live and a further 400,000 engaged online. This included our own promotional videos, which were viewed ~60,000 times in total. In addition to dissemination of results, the activity resulted in new industry contacts and a plan to expand the exhibit for the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018