An in-situ LEIS facility for atomic-scale assembly manufacturing research

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Mech, Materials & Aerospace Engineering


Our everyday lives are so enriched by technology, that it is becoming unimaginable to live without it. We are supported by an energy infrastructure; information technology; and modern healthcare for example. All of these impact on us through products which involve advanced manufacturing processing at surfaces and interfaces. Manufacturing involves additive assembly, subtractive removal, heat treatments and chemical processes. All together this technology brings us smart phones, computers, solar cells, medical devices, automobiles and so many more.

The goal of this project is to develop at tool for examining the surfaces of parts during manufacturing processes or exposure to reactive environments. We will use beams of low energy ions to inform us about the atomic structure of surfaces and interfaces in materials, in between exposing them to simulated process environments. The technique of Low Energy Ion Scattering (LEIS) will be combined with a processing chamber, which will allow samples to be treated and then intermittently characterised without exposing the surface to atmosphere. Through repeated cycles of treatment and characterisation, 'snap shots' of the evolving surface structure will reveal what atomic scale mechanisms are occurring during processing. This approach will lead to improved manufacturing methods and ultimately to better products of the future.

This project will design, procure and implement a unique in-situ LEIS facility, that will enhance a broad portfolio of existing and future EPSRC research across the UK and internationally through collaboration.

Planned Impact

This proposal seeks to develop our understanding of the role of surfaces and interfaces in transformative manufacturing or environmental processes. The potential impacts of the research enabled by the in-situ LEIS facility will contribute to:

- increased economic activity arising from better manufacturing processes;

- societal benefits arising from the improved products that can be realised through advanced manufacturing techniques;

- a contribution new knowledge in the fields where the analytical method is applied.

- and training of new scientists, engineers and technologists through engagement with the facility and the research proposed.

A deeper understanding of surfaces and interfaces at the atomic-scale is important across a range of manufacturing sectors including: surface engineering; electronics and information storage; chemicals and advanced materials; and medical technologies. Each of these areas is strategically important to the UK economy and our society.


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Kulczyk-Malecka J (2020) Nb-doped TiO2 coatings developed by high power impulse magnetron sputtering-chemical vapor deposition hybrid deposition process in Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology A: Vacuum, Surfaces, and Films

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Werner M (2018) Elucidation of ALD MgZnO deposition processes using low energy ion scattering in Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology A: Vacuum, Surfaces, and Films

Description The research funding itself was to purchase equipment for low energy ion spectroscopy. The facility has subsequently been use to support other projects which involve surface coatings or modifications. These have included:
- the modification of metal powders used in additive manufacturing;
- elucidating the coating of Li ion battery cathode and electrolyte powders;
- the development of insulators for high-voltage power electronics;
- new thin film materials with functional properties, for example tin monoxide (SnO);
- and ink-jet printed alloys for security marking.

The equipment has been used to support research across a range projects and we are now beginning to see research programmes that will explit the LEIS capability in the fields of Li-ion battery materials and thin film transistor RFID tags, for example. In these applications the LEIS can reveal important surface chemistry that influences the final performance of the technology. Examples of this might include the lifetime and storage capacity of batteries, or the widespread use of RFID tags in food packaging.
Exploitation Route The equipment continues to provide support to academic researchers at Liverpool and in other universities. The facility is also available to industries working in surface technologies and processes.

The LEIS facility is going on to be used by researchers working in the Faraday Institute for battery technology. It will also being used by industry partners working in the supply chain for chemical precursors and thin film electronics. In particulaar, the LEIS has been crucial to the development of p-type semiconductors for thin film transistors used in RFID and IoT applications.
Sectors Chemicals,Electronics,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Transport

Description This grant provided capital funding for the purchase of an IonToF low energy ion scattering. The technique provides about the composition of the surfaces of materials. A range of companies have bought time on the facility to date, covering technologies such as fuel cells, RF identification tabs, superhard abrasives and glass coatings. The companies have used the LEIS information to improve the processes employed to manufacturing their components. Industrial collaborations have included an 18 month IUK SMART award to develop p-type flexible thin film transistors. This is currently on-going and a new 2-year KTP award has been secured to transfer the arising knowledge to the company. Here the LEIS provides unprecented compositional analysis of ultrathin films, for use in flexible electronics that are intended for the Internet of Things applications.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Economic