Underpinning Multi-User Equipment

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: Research Office


Our vision is to undertake excellent research underpinned by world-class experimental facilities delivered in collaboration with regional, national and international partners from academia and industry. In this proposal, our specific aim is to refresh and update multi-user elements of our laboratory equipment to support our portfolio of world-class EPS research, to ensure training of the next generation of researchers in cutting-edge techniques and to continue to create internationally-leading facilities accessible by industrial and research partners.

Loughborough University has a substantial and sustained commitment to maintaining experimental facilities in support of the world-class research activities that saw us ranked in the top 10 in England for research intensity in REF2014. In this submission, we seek critical multi-user equipment which will both underpin and make a step-change to our key engineering and physical sciences (EPS) research capabilities. The equipment will also support our £65M West Park infrastructure re-development project, the largest such project ever undertaken by the University, in which our four Schools in the EPS space will benefit from relocation, refurbishment and new build to deliver sector leading state-of-the-art research and teaching facilities.

We conducted a rigorous two-stage selection procedure led by the PVC(R) and supported by Deans, Associate Deans and the Research Development Manager responsible for EPSRC funding. Criteria used included the quality, importance and breadth of the research portfolio underpinned, and the strategic fit to institutional and EPSRC priorities, in line with guidance in the call.

As a consequence, we are requesting four items of equipment through this call, a Coherence Scanning Interferometer (CSI) system, a Xenon Gas Plasma Focused Ion Beam Instrument and Analytical Accessories (P-FIB), a Multi-functional Cryogen-Free Measurement System (CFMS) and a 400 MHz Liquid/Solid State Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Spectrometer. We have requested the (near) full cost of the items from the suppliers but we will bear all of the installation and associated refurbishment costs within the major refurbishment / new build project that is now underway on the West Park of our campus.

Each of these items of underpinning multi-user equipment will replace existing equipment which has been well used but has now reached the end of its efficient life. The requested items will also offer enhanced functionality, providing students and staff with the necessary infrastructure to undertake internationally excellent research. We estimate over half our EPSRC portfolio (ie >£40m) will benefit from the investment proposed from which we will deliver significant impacts in nano-surface engineering, microstructural analysis at the atomic level, quantum systems engineering and molecular characterisation. This investment marks a statement of intent for Loughborough's commitment to research facilities across our Science and Engineering Schools. The successful project will see this new equipment housed in new, bespoke laboratories within the School of Aeronautical, Automotive, Chemical and Materials Science (Loughborough Materials Characterisation Centre), and Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering and School of Science (Chemistry and Physics). This includes the projects of our 700 EPS PhD students and our collaborations through our participation in six Centres of Doctoral Training.

Planned Impact

The requested equipment underpins many of the 70 current EPSRC grants, worth over £85m, which are currently held at Loughborough University. The academics who will use the equipment regularly publish their findings in high impact multidisciplinary journals such as Nature and its subsidiaries, Physical Review Letters, Proceedings of the Royal Society, IoP, Angewandte Chem., JACS, Acta Materialia and Ultramicroscopy. Provision of the equipment will enable continued submission to these top-tier journals.

Loughborough is a pioneer of the equipment sharing agenda, developing the open source equipment database system Kit-Catalogue (www.kit-catalogue.com), to facilitate efficient use of equipment internally and externally. All the equipment will be listed on Kit-Catalogue and the equipment.data.ac.uk database to facilitate usage, and will be made known within the framework of collaborating (and other) universities and companies with which Loughborough works, to ensure access and use can be maximised. Through their use, realisation of multiple impact opportunities across many different funded and non-funded research projects, covering a variety of industrial sectors and ESPRC Themes will be realised.

All staff, research assistants, and CDT, PhD and undergraduate students who will benefit from the equipment will be trained to use it safely and efficiently, enabling them to maintain ownership of their experimentation, and ensuring better integrity of understanding of their measurements and results. Dedicated technical staff will provide training for users in three groups:
Basic users (UG students) will receive a basic level of training which will enable them to use the equipment safely and efficiently during supervised hours (weekdays 8am-6pm for the majority of facilities).
Intermediate users (PhDs & RAs) in addition to the basic training provided, research students will be invited to a seminar series which will provide them with a good theoretical grounding in relevant techniques.
Advanced users (Academic Staff & Technicians): will received extensive training encompassing all elements of machine set up and use, analysis of results to ISO standards and an overview of general maintenance procedures.
Description The majority of the equipment was installed during 2018, a description is outlined below:
- 12k core Broadwell system with Infiniband interconnect, five 1TB OpenPOWER nodes and a 1PB data store, including 4 years hardware and software support
- 500 MHz Liquid/Solids NMR Spectrometer
- Physical Properties Measurement System - CFMS - Cryogen-free Measurement System from Cryogenics
- Noble Gas Plasma Focused Ion Beam Instrument and Analytical Accessories (P-FIB)
- NexView 3D Coherence Scanning Interferometer
Exploitation Route The equipment and facilities are open to all users within the University, and have been advertised to encourage usage. Equipment is listed on the Loughborough KIT catalogue, and available for users from other institutions and industry. External users are engaged via lab tours after workshops or invited talks, at conference, and online.

For the Physical Properties Measurement System, there have been 142 usage days since the last submission period (180 downtime due to COVID and knock-on effects). 7 PhD students and 7 staff have been trained. The impact of COVID has meant reduced time on equipment due to additional time required for maintenance (installation of recirculating water filter and restart of chilled water) and reduced access for external users (6 months downtime).

The NMR is a routine analysis kit that is used by over half of the research groups in Chemistry and some of the polymer groups in Materials. Thus the underpinning work from this should have wide use and utilisation by others in the field. For the NMR spectrometer over 50 PhD students/PDRA's have been trained to use the equipment, which is utilised on a daily basis. Fundamental work using this equipment has enabled researchers in the SuSHy CDT to carry out their work and underpinning research for successful research grants, for example EP/S032339/1, BB/V003372/1, BB/T012099/1, EP/T028688/1, EP/V048554/1, and EP/V011863/1.

For the Bruker Coherence Scanning Interferometer, since installation of the instrument in April 2018, there have been 46 separate users totaling 308 hours of use. A range of surface features have been measurement, for instance; automative bearings, ultrasonically machined surfaces, etched silicon surfaces, to name a few.

The PFIB currently has over 15 users who are working in a variety of fields which include power electronics, vehicle electrification, photovoltaics, lightweight metals and power generation. The majority of projects are supported by industrial partners so, in addition to academic outputs, the findings are likely to lead to improved products, meeting the needs of society and increased income. In addition to industrial research partners, the PFIB has been used by over 10 companies for a variety of tasks including product development and failure analysis.
Sectors Construction,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description Luminescent Host Molecules for Multisite Recognition of Polyphosphate Anions
Amount £247,277 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/S032339/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2020 
End 12/2021